The Great Vape Debate: Are Teens Being Targeted?

The e-cigarette debate recently kicked up a gear, as Connecticut became the latest state to investigate the vape manufacturer Juul. According to NBC News, the state wants to determine if “Juul is illegally marketing its products as smoking-cessation devices, and whether it has properly limited its marketing to adults.”

E-cigarettes — which allow users to inhale nicotine as vapor rather than smoke — have had a devoted following since the mid-aughts, but governments are just recently getting wise to their potential influence. Besides the issue as to whether Juul has been making false health claims without FDA approval, there has also been a lot of press attention drawn to its marketing — which many claim has specifically targeted kids.

Last year, Forbes reported that many of Juul’s now-deleted early social media posts after its 2015 launch featured young, attractive models. They were often flirting and clubbing, and tended to wear teen-style clothing. However, there was no mention of Juul cigarettes being an alternative for adults looking to kick “real” cigarettes; they just seemed like a cool teen activity in the ads, some people have argued

But it’s not just the marketing that might make Juul problematic when it comes to young people. As former FDA commissioner David A. Kessler pointed out in the New York Times, Juul is designed in a way which would particularly appeal to kids.

By using a higher percentage of nicotine than earlier e-cigarettes, and adding acids and flavorings to make them more palatable, e-cigarettes have become more popular among young people, says Kessler. Additionally, the relatively small vapor cloud an e-cigarette produces makes it less likely that young people using them might be detected at school.

So what’s the upshot? It’s not entirely clear yet. Vaping has been linked to several health risks, and the American Cancer Society says that there is evidence that nicotine can harm the brain development of teenagers. As Kessler puts it in the Times: “Each Juul cartridge with 5 percent nicotine delivers 200 puffs, compared to the 10 to 15 puffs of a traditional cigarette. As a pediatrician, I am very concerned about the possibility of increased daily nicotine consumption among some young people.”

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