On Tuesday, CNBC reported that Fontem Ventures, a unit of Imperial Tobacco Group, would raise the minimum age to buy pods on its website to 21. The company sells blu e-cigarettes, which come in various fruity flavors.
Since it came on the market in 2015, Juul has become catnip to teenagers, who had been drilled since preschool days on the perils of cigarette smoking. The name itself sounded like a mash-up of “jewel” and “cool.”
Unlike the clunky older vapes, the compact device could readily evade detection from parents and teachers. It not only looked like a flash drive, it could be recharged in a computer’s USB port. And the flavors were both alluring and sophisticated. And it offered a way for teenagers to rebel and appear hip, without leading to cancer.
And so Juul became a fast, furious hit among high school and even middle school students. A comprehensive report on e-cigarettes in January by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine noted that 11 percent of all high school students, or nearly 1.7 million, had vaped within the last month. Preliminary unpublished federal data estimates that number now to be at least 3 million. By now, students have their own vocabulary built around Juul — ”juuling” has become a verb.
Schools around the country were caught unaware. The aerosol mist from Juul is nearly odorless and dissipates within seconds. Students began juuling as teachers’ backs were turned. They filled school bathrooms for juuling breaks. And for all that school officials knew, students were just recharging flash drives diligently on laptops.
Within 18 months of Juul’s release, school officials began confiscating them and providing information sessions to parents. They had two paramount concerns: the increasing use of Juul and other vapes for marijuana and the amount of nicotine in Juul’s pods. Nicotine, the naturally occurring chemical in tobacco, is the addictive element that binds smokers to cigarettes and vapers to Juul and other e-cigarettes. Teenagers, whose brains are still developing, need less exposure to nicotine than adults in order to become addicted.
But perhaps most worrisome was a conclusion reached by the National Academies: that teenagers who use the devices may be at higher risk for cigarette smoking.