Back in the News: Adolescents and Vaping

Did JUUL specifically target adolescents? Evidence suggests they did.

Posted Aug 04, 2019

Before discussing the news from a subcommittee of the US House Oversight and Reform Committee on whether JUUL marketed their products directly to teens, I want to mention that I will be starting a multi-part series on the US opioid epidemic in the next few weeks.  I’m planning to cover the history of the epidemic, explain what fentanyl is (and why it is so dangerous), highlight some personal stories and then propose ways forward.  If you have topics you want me to address or specific questions I can work into a post, please let me know in the comments section.

With that out of the way, I wanted to highlight the recent congressional hearing on JUUL, which was covered in more detail here and here (among other places).  I addressed vaping in my previous post, arguing for access in adults – as harm reduction – and restrictions to ensure that adolescents were prevented access.  The testimony provided yesterday shows how JUUL attempted to market directly to teens in ways beyond the advertising and flavors I mentioned in the last post. 

JUUL paid schools, a summer camp for children and a police activity league tens of thousands of dollars to implement an educational program they developed on vaping.  JUUL is not the only company to do something like this, as alcoholic beverage makers sponsor drunk driving prevention programs.  But these companies have an obvious conflict-of-interest.  Limiting vaping in teens would reduce sales for JUUL and other manufacturers, and there is no evidence that these programs actually work (unlike some of the programs described in this research article).

JUUL has taken steps to reduce availability of flavored e-liquids, but as one of the articles covering the hearing notes, the mint flavor is still widely available.  The other article describes emails within JUUL comparing their educational programs to those of cigarette makers in the past, calling the programs “eerily similar”.  That is quite a red flag.

What can be done to limit teen access to e-cigarettes?  This 2015 opinion article in the Washington Post covers many typical recommendations, but the best thing that can be done is to contact your members of congress (found here), state legislators, and city council members.  As I discussed in my last post, most of the regulation on e-cigarettes was coming at a local or state level, not from Congress.  Urge your local schools to address e-cigarette use by encouraging students who use to get treatment.  Finally, if you have children, one of the best prevention strategies is to talk with them about vaping (and other substance use).  This is a strong guide, and it encourages starting such talks early and concentrating on the present, not long-term consequences.  As it notes, even short, causal talks can help – so take advantage of natural opportunities to talk with your kids about vaping and other drug use.