Vaping – what is it and is your child doing it?

By Jenny Sites February 28, 2019

Parents of teenagers – we try really hard to keep on top of everything but it’s not easy, especially in the world of texting and the internet. Stop what you’re doing and ask your kids about Vaping.

Having a teen, being around other teens, and working in the school system I’ve heard a lot about this vaping product – Juul (pronounced “jewel”).  Juul is a newer brand of electronic cigarette and it has become popular with the young generations. While it is not legal for Juul, or other cigarettes to be sold to persons under 21, Juul is a rising concern for parents.

Juul can be purchased in just about any gas station or cigarette business (According to Juul’s website, there are 20 places within 2 miles of my house where I can purchase them). It looks like a USB drive and therefore it can easily be concealed. As a matter of fact, Juul is charged using the USB port of a computer.  Yep, that thing sticking out of the side of your kid’s laptop could be an e-cigarette!

I don’t smoke or vape, so when I started hearing about this Juul thing, I decided to do a little research for myself. First I chatted with some teenagers and then I did some digging online. 

First, let’s talk about how the e-cigarettes work.  E-cigarettes are a container that heat cartridges filled with liquid, turning the liquid into vapor which can be inhaled, aka Vaping. These cartridges contain nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals. While there are other brands of e-cigarettes, Juul has become a big hit with teens for a few reasons. It’s small and looks like a USB drive, so it’s easy to carry and easy to hide. It uses a liquid containing nicotine salts from tobacco leaves so it doesn’t give you the irritating feeling you find in combustible cigarettes. It comes in a variety of flavors, including sweet and fruity flavors. According to the surgeon general, 85% of e-cigarette users age 12-17 use flavors. (No, that’s not a typo – age twelve).

So how would your child get one? For one thing, you can order them on the internet.  You have to click a button that says you’re 21, but let’s be honest, if they are on the website to buy vaping products, they aren’t afraid to click that button.  If your teen isn’t up for the challenge, they are sure to have a friend who is. Once they have the device they have to get the cartridges, aka pods. Pods can also be bought online or they may have a friend who buys in bulk and sells them. And, just like when you were in school, there is always a store or two who looks the other way or doesn’t card. Kids talk (and email, text, snap, tweet…) so if you need to know which place that is, it’s not hard to find out.

These devices are so small that kids use them at school – in the classroom, in the halls, in the bathroom! They conceal the small amount of smoke by blowing it into their shirt. They smell sweet or fruity, like gum, so no one is concerned with the smell. They share them, they pass them around. There are some people who leave them in the bathroom stall for the next friend to come use.  If you go to YouTube, you can see video after video of kids using them in all kinds of places.

Studies show that e-cigarette use increases the risk of smoking combustible cigarettes. They have only been on the market for about 10 years, therefore long-term studies have yet to be completed. However, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association, short-term effects include “rapid deterioration of vascular function, increased heart rate, and elevated diastolic blood pressure”. The majority of the flavoring and humectants used in e-cigarettes has been deemed safe by the FDA for oral consumption, but the effects of inhaling those flavors are unknown. A study from Johns Hopkins concluded that vapors from a variety of e-cigarettes contain levels of metals, including lead, that are potentially toxic. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine study “determined that most e-cigarette products contain and emit a variety of potentially toxic substances”.  Plus, one Juul pod has almost as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes – that is 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine!

According to an article in Forbes, Juul has been the target of multiple accusations that it’s advertising to teens. In order to remedy that, at the end of 2018 they removed their fruit flavors from stores – although they are still sold online – and closed their social media accounts.  

So, take the time to talk to your teen (or pre-teen) and find out what they know about vaping. Talk to them about the risks and encourage them not to give in to the peer pressure. Take a look at their electronics (it that really a USB drive?) and keep an ear out when they are with their friends. The CDC says 3.69 million teens vape – does yours?

Tip from a teen: most teens don’t chew fruity gum.




Juul, AAFP, JAHA, NAP, NASEM, Johns Hopkins, Forbes, Surgeon General, CDC