By Victoria Brown
Mallory, a second-year student at FSW, is never seen without her vape or at least one of her two Juuls, a type of e-cigarette. She has been vaping daily since she was 16 and posts photos of herself on social media hitting her Juuls. She says she enjoys the social aspect of Juuling.
Even though her Juuls are a big part of her life, her family doesn’t know she vapes.
“I’m not addicted to it,” said Mallory, who’s personality matches her loud, bright makeup, “but it’s a comfort zone.”
Mallory’s story is a common one among Generation Z. Their fascination with Juuling, a particular type of vaping, recalls earlier generations’ fixation on cigarettes.
Walking across FSW’s Lee campus, it’s hard not to notice the sweet, fruity smell of the vapor. Inside the pingpong room at the S Building on Lee campus, vape smoke is sometimes so heavy it’s hard to breathe or see across the table.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, warned in September of an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.
Last year, the FDA sent out a statement targeting flavored Juul pods and their distributors. The FDA may limit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and make it harder to buy one underage.
“We didn’t foresee the extent of what’s now become one of our biggest challenges,” Gottlieb said in September. “We didn’t predict what I now believe is an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers.”
Floridians approved Amendment 9 to the Florida Constitution in November, which prohibits vaping at indoor workplaces, mirroring smoking bans in the 1990s and 2000s.
The owner of Marlboro cigarettes, Altria Group Inc., bought 35 percent of Juul’s stock at the end of 2018. Juul will soon be displayed next to Marlboro cigarettes in more than 230,000 retail locations under Altria’s sales organization.
First introduced as a device for older smokers trying to quit tobacco products, what the FDA calls “electronic nicotine delivery devices” are popular with kids. Social media presence drew the kids in, but the nicotine buzz kept them Juuling.
The Juul is especially popular with junior high and high school students because of its visual appeal – sleek and easy to conceal – and the amount of nicotine in a Juul pod. A Juul pod’s nicotine levels can range from 3 to 5 percent, compared to 0.6 to 2.4 percent nicotine in other types of vapes.
While the varying levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes are supposed to help long-term smokers gradually step down their nicotine intake, they also make it easy for teens to step up to stronger vapes.
The nicotine liquid comes in many flavors that appeal to kids who might stay away from traditional cigarettes because of their foul taste and smell. Two Juul pod flavors that seem to be highly popular with teenagers are mango and mint.
Teens also enjoy the price of a Juul: $35 for the Juul itself or $50 for a Juul and four Juul pods. A four pack of Juul pods costs $16.
Juuls, with a sleeker design and higher nicotine levels than many other vapes, are the teenage cigarettes of the 21st century.
“I think that’s kind of hilarious actually,” said a 17-year-old sophomore at FSW, who requested to stay nameless because of his status as a senior at FSW Collegiate High School on Lee campus. “Kids will find nicotine regardless of the medium. Kids used to smoke cigarettes all the time, but now that it’s more accessible I guess kids Juul more. And I think that if a kid knows what he is doing by using a Juul, then who cares? It’s his problem you know…or hers.”
On the other hand, Alex, another 17-year-old sophomore at FSW, sees health hazards with Juuling, especially when it is happening in an indoor public place, like FSW’s pingpong room. She has never vaped and has no plans to start.
“In my opinion secondhand vaping is equivalent to secondhand smoking,” Alex said. “There are a lot of people who have asthma and other breathing problems who should be able to use the public areas without worry. And nicotine addiction is nicotine addiction. The widespread use is worrying, especially among teenagers whose brains are still developing.”
Then there are students like Mallory, who sees a problem with teenage vaping and thinks it needs to be fixed, even while she continues to Juul as her stress reliever.
“It’s all about social media presence,” Mallory said as she took a hit of her Juul in between classes. “There are ads everywhere for Juul and vaping, so of course people want it.”