By: Abena Dakwahene

You’d have to be living under a rock to not know what a vape pen or an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is. It might be plugged into your child’s or student’s laptop right now and you have no idea. The most commonly used vaping device is a JUUL, an electronic cigarette that is slimmer, more discreet, charges via USB, and produces less smoke than the former electronic cigarette (e-cigarettes) options. The act of using a JUUL is called JUULing. It comes with a variety of flavors, removing the nicotine taste that regular cigarettes have. One cartridge, or pod, of JUUL is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, containing 5% nicotine per volume.

A company spokeswoman stated that “the entire conception, premise, operations, mission of the company is to eliminate cigarettes and get adult smokers to switch to JUULing” (Kelly, 2018). However, teenagers are picking up this habit in a rapid and concerning fashion. JUULing is a social norm today and teens are doing it while driving, at parties, at schools, etc. Its sleek design and low vapor emission makes it possible to use more often and more discreetly.

Teenagers and young adults are using JUULs for creating or enhancing their social media presence and/or to “be cool”. According to a study by the Truth Initiative, a survey of teenagers found that a majority of youth using JUULs are “unaware or unsure that the product contains nicotine” (Kelly, 2018). Regular cigarette use has decreased but the use of e-cigarettes has risen drastically in the last 5+ years. Marketing has resembled kid-friendly food products (i.e. juice boxes, candy or cookies). As use among youth has continued to increase, public health professionals are beginning to educate communities about the risks and possible dangers of e-cigarette use.
This year, we have seen many e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injuries (EVALI) from individuals who use these products. Although most e-cigarettes have nicotine-containing substances, some may also have THC-related substances. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana. Many of these e-cigarettes contain vitamin E acetate, an additive in some THC-containing e-cigarettes or vaping products (CDC, 2019). As of December 17, 2019, a total of 2,506 hospitalized EVALI cases have been reported to CDC from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands). Fifty-four deaths have been confirmed in 27 states and the District of Columbia (CDC, 2019).

Local public health organizations like The New Jersey Prevention Network (NJPN) and county prevention agencies have been in the forefront of vaping prevention and education. NJPN cultivated a new youth-led initiative called Incorruptible.Us where youth are sharing the risks of using e-cigarettes with their peers, community members, and government officials. NJPN has also created Don’t Get Vaped In trainings, which are vaping education and prevention presentations for adults and youth. Many schools and local prevention agencies have been trained in the curriculum. As the African proverb goes – it takes a village to keep our youth safe. It’s important for community agencies, schools, government, parents, law enforcement, and youth to work together, educate, and implement policies that will deter youth vaping use.

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