This page features: Cited Research Articles
An Addictive and Dangerous Device in a Class of its Own
JUUL was founded in 2015 by Adam Bowen and James Monsees, two Stanford graduates looking to disrupt the tobacco industry. Instead, they caused what many believe to be a dangerous e-cigarette health epidemic. For a time, JUUL was the darling of a billion-dollar e-cigarette market, but the dangers of their product and the harmful effects of vaping have come to light.
A Yale study found that the number of young vapers is truly shocking. More than 5 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Study (NYTS), up from more than 3.6 million the previous year. The side effects of vaping may not have been as widely understood at the time of the study as they are today, but this is an incredible number knowing what we now know about the health effects of vaping.
Just how dangerous is vaping? Using JUUL products is now widely believed to cause severe lung, heart, and kidney disease. Following a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation in 2018, a safety communication was issued stating that e-cigs were a factor in seizures suffered by 35 people who used vaping devices. Many scientific communities have investigated the dangers of vaping: The CDC, FDA, and other organizations have all collected abundant evidence of the negative effects of vaping.
A JUUL device has two components: the e-cigarette, which holds the vaporizer unit and the battery, and the pod, which contains e-liquid. Inside a JUUL pod is a chemical stew of nicotine, glycerol, propylene glycol, benzoic acid, and flavorings. A JUUL device creates an easily inhaled aerosol, delivering nicotine via an e-liquid that is heated by an internally regulated heating mechanism. Sold as non-refillable JUUL pods, the cartridges click into the top of the JUUL device.
The pods deliver 5% nicotine by volume, which is more than twice the amount found in other e-liquids. Add to this that JUUL uses nicotine salts, which allows the drug to absorb more readily into the bloodstream, and you have a formula that can be incredibly harmful to the lungs
In a Yale study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in July 2019, researchers used a “vaping machine” to analyze the chemical makeup of several of JUUL’s flavors, including “Creme Brulee,” “Fruit Medley,” and “Cool Cucumber.” The researchers detected glycerol acetals, which transferred from the liquid to the vapor. Researchers strongly advised future e-cig regulations to address the new and potentially toxic compounds that arise when the liquid is turned into vapor as well as the health risks tied to the various flavorings added.
Children and Young Adults Targeted From the Start
From its start in 2015, JUUL specifically targeted children and young adults, and they succeeded wildly. Their advertisements saturated the market, with commercials in print, television, and digital form and a tremendous reach via social media.
Added to this, they placed ads on websites explicitly geared toward children, running colorful, image-based banner ads on Nick.com, NickJr.com, and CartoonNetwork.com, reaching children who never stopped to wonder, “What does vaping do to your lungs?”
The assortment of candy-like, fruit-flavored choices originally sold by JUUL appealed immensely to underage consumers, and the device’s sleek, small design meant the JUUL initially passed for a USB drive, essentially allowing it to hide in plain sight of unsuspecting parents. The minimalist design enabled children and young adults to vape discreetly, often in the presence of parents and teachers.
JUUL’s Exploitation of Children via Social Media
In a white paper, a Stanford research group studied JUUL’s marketing campaign from the company’s start in 2015 through the fall of 2018. After analyzing thousands of ads, emails, and Instagram posts, they concluded that the ads were “patently youth-oriented.” The advertisements show young, happy, and attractive young adults vaping as they live their best lives, powerful and moving images aimed to connect with today’s youth emotionally.
What set JUUL apart from other e-cig companies was that they met kids where they were most comfortable: across social media platforms. The company also reached out to influencers to spread their marketing message, created hashtags, and had attractive men and women hand out complimentary JUUL devices to concert and event attendees.
A Familiar and Nostalgic Approach to Packaging
The initial color and design choices were remarkably similar to that of classic cigarette packaging, just as their print ads featured models posing similarly to those who advertised cigarettes in the 1970s.
In 2015, JUUL launched its “Vaporized” campaign, splashing attractive 20-somethings vaping while having fun on billboards, in magazines, and across social media. JUUL soon became synonymous with a cool, urban, and hip style for kids and young adults across the country.
E-Cigs Do Not Aid in Tobacco Smoking Cessation
Both Bowen and Monsees insist that their product was developed with smoking cessation in mind. When JUUL promoted its product as a tool for lifelong smokers wishing to quit, the World Health Organization (WHO) was not convinced. Citing a lack of scientific research to back marketing claims that e-cigarettes are a safe and effective way to quit smoking, the WHO urged e-cig companies to remove the false statement from their marketing materials.
In America, the FDA has never approved any e-cigarette product as a smoking cessation aid, and there is no scientific evidence that e-cigs can help people kick the habit permanently.
In fact, the opposite appears to be true. A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a threefold increase in teens smoking within six months of starting vaping. A 2018 Yale study found that the switch from vaping to using tobacco cigarettes could happen in as little as a month.
In an attempt to curb the teen vaping epidemic, the Trump administration banned fruit, candy, mint, and dessert-flavored e-juice pods in January 2020. The tobacco and menthol flavors are still available, since they are not as frequently used by young vapers.
This ban, along with raising the smoking/vaping age from 18 to 21, is likely to save many young lives.
Vaping and Serious Complications Associated With COVID-19
While COVID-19 was expected to broadly impact the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, youths who smoke and vape are being hit particularly hard because of the severe effects of vaping on lungs. Those who use e-cigarettes are placing themselves at a potentially higher risk of a variety of serious illnesses, including COVID-19.
Also of great concern is how the excessive amount of nicotine in e-liquids impacts the cardiovascular health and immune system of patients with COVID-19. Researchers from the University of Birmingham have found that e-cig vapor disabled critical immune cells in the lungs and boosted harmful inflammation.
The bottom line is that e-cig use leaves children and young adults at a heightened risk for serious health complications associated with COVID-19, including pneumonia, commonly experienced by smokers.
Teresa Stack Hunter is a former journalist turned content writer with two decades of experience. Her career began as a journalist in Washington, D.C. where she interviewed politicians on Capitol Hill and foreign dignitaries on Embassy Row. Teresa also worked at the Department of Treasury, where she served as the writer-editor for Under Secretary of Enforcement Ronald K. Noble, and his equally impressive replacement Under Secretary of Enforcement Raymond W. Kelly. As a freelance writer, she writes for clients across many sectors and also ghostwrites for clients in finance.