In the middle of fourth period, I am at the point in my school day when drinking the remaining water in my 32 ounce water bottle gets the best of me. So, like any day, with permission from my teacher, I head across the quad and into the restroom. As soon as I enter, I am surrounded by the uncomfortable sound of four girls coughing in the third stall down.
This occurrence is not uncommon, and I, along with most students, don’t think much of it anymore. At this point, it seems more uncommon to not see multiple feet in the bottom of at least one stall with every bathroom visit. Moments later, I see the four girls exit their vaping haven and part ways back into their classes. There is no need to say goodbye to each other. They will meet up again next period and repeat the exact same routine.
Time and time again, vaping has been regarded as a pressing issue among high school students, especially within the past two years. This has, in part, been the result of the popularization of Juul, an electronic cigarette company with an ultimate goal of improving the lives of adult smokers in the US and eliminating cigarettes altogether to the best of their ability. But ironically, Juul has blown up among teenagers, making their aesthetic appeal and variety of flavors entirely counterproductive. According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, one in five high school kids currently use e-cigarettes as of this year. Considering that Juul now accounts for 70 percent of all e-cigarette sales, it is fair to assume that a large portion of these high school students are now using the wildly popular e-cigarette in particular.
With this in mind, this month Juul announced a series of actions they would be taking in order to combat teen usage. This includes restricting the sales of flavored Juul pods (Mango, Fruit, Cucumber, and Creme), enhancing their e-commerce platform to ensure consumers are at least 21 years old, exiting U.S. social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram), supporting effective legislation and regulation to prevent purchase by minors, pledging $30 million over the next three years to independent research, and more.
“We support reasonable regulation of nicotine products and comply with all relevant laws and regulations. We share public health concerns about cigarettes; in fact, they constitute our company’s mission,” Juul recently announced on their website. “We did not create Juul to undermine years of effective tobacco control, and we do not want to see a new generation of smokers. We believe Juul can accelerate cigarette displacement. We are committed to understanding Juul’s performance and impact. Incorporating the latest research from leading scientists in the field drives our innovation.”
Although these series of actions are elaborate, efforts to combat teen nicotine usage and addiction may have come too late. The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens reports that every day, an estimated 2,100 youth and young adults who have been occasional smokers become daily cigarette smokers. To make matters worse, young people who use e-cigs may be more likely to also become smokers.
While Juul is making an appreciated effort to combat these numbers, what about the vast number of teens who have already become addicted to nicotine within the past two years? It is fair to assume that, rather than stopping their use altogether, they will only turn to other e-cigarettes and vaping devices, such as Suorin, a device that has become popular within the past few months, that, scarily enough, allows the user to have control over the nicotine concentration within each use. Suorin has not adopted an elaborate plan to combat underage usage. The company can only hope that teen nicotine addicts do not turn to regular cigarettes out of desperation.
On December 5, the FDA will hold a public hearing in an effort to address teen nicotine addiction. While this is absolutely necessary at any point in time, it should have come months earlier. It is no secret that the sound of coughing in high school bathrooms across the US will not be going away any time soon.