I’m as out of touch as my parents were as far as what teens are up to. I had to look up “Fortnite” yesterday. I spelled it like the poetic way to say “two weeks.” Generally, if it doesn’t involve spreading venereal disease/getting pregnant, driving intoxicated or frying their brains on alcohol or hard drugs, I’m happy enough to leave it be.
Juul, though, is a something that scares the hell out of me. Maybe not quite to the point of teen pregnancy or heroin addiction, but with 15-year-old and 12-year-old daughters, Juul is now seriously on my mind.
First, a thanks to the New Yorker and Jia Tolentino for a typically excellent rundown of what Juul and e-cigarettes in general are all about. (The New York Times/Amos Barshad did a good piece on it April, too.) Highly recommended reading in full, both of them. But a brief summary, in no particular order, from memory. Some of this is from the article, some of it not. You should be able to discern which is which:
- Juul contains a pack of cigarettes’ worth of nicotine per pod, and the vape emanating from the pods tastes good.
- Vaping is easy to get away with about anywhere because you’re heating a liquid that doesn’t emanate diesel-bus style fumes. Unless you happen to be Eskimo-kissing someone exhaling, it’s hard to detect at all.
- Juul, which has about 55 percent of the e-cigarette market, could save 1,500 lives a day (smoking kills 500,000 people a year, which is insane) by getting people already addicted to nicotine to switch from cigarettes to vaping. That’s because it’s not the nicotine, but the tar and whatnot from burning leaves that causes the health problems with smoking.
- Juul does not want kids using their products. I truly do believe this.
- Kids use their products like mad. Why?
- Did you ever try chewing tobacco as a kid? It’s gross, but a nicotine buzz is a seriously good buzz. Plus it tastes good. And it’s viewed as chill, or whatever term they’re using. And teenagers are invincible, and a long-term plan for a typical teen has the half-life of a Snapchat post.
- Lots of research has been done on tobacco, as it’s been something of a public health problem for the last several decades.
- That research shows that nicotine addiction during the years the brain is developing — the teen years — rewires the mind in such a way that the addiction is deeper than among those who start later. So they have a helluva time quitting.
- This puts regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a serious bind. Juul could save lives; Juul is dragging an entire generation into nicotine addiction.
- We don’t have any idea what the long-term effects of Juuling will be, health-wise. But the chance that it’s just awesome for you is, shall we say, slim.
- These new nicotine addicts are going to be spending a fortune feeding the habit. A Juul starter kit is like $50, which includes the battery unit and four pods. Subsequent four-packs of pods cost $16. A cynical person would, when Juul goes public, buy the stock.
East High School in Denver, like apparently all high schools in the western hemisphere, is Juul-infested. I talked to Lily, 15, about it. She described well-established black markets for pods and how kids are using them all over the place — the exact conversations the above writers had with high schoolers in their stories. And if you think these kids aren’t hitting their Juuls hard enough to get a wicked buzz, over and over, all day, you’re dreaming. “Teen” and “moderation” are damn-near antonyms.
What to do? Lily is a competitive skater and for the time being doesn’t have the time for it. I told her and her sister it’s an insane thing to start doing if only because, at minimum, it’ll cost you a fortune and, quite possibly, you may never be able to stop. And you’re messing with your brain, forever. How that will hold up against social cachet and cascades of sweet dopamine, time will tell.