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Juuling Trend Grows among Kids; FDA Has Had Enough

Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle USA TODAY NETWORK - TENNESSEE

When e-cigarettes first appeared on the market, Montgomery County Health Director Joey Smith hoped they could help smokers quit.

Instead, they seem to have attracted a new generation to take up vaping, and now “Juuling,” with bubble gum, grape and root beer flavors. That has both schools and the FDA at their limit, and some of these products could end up being banned.

Juuling, or using a type of electronic cigarette called Juul that looks like the USB sticks used to save electronic documents and other data, is growing in popularity and racking up revenue. It’s also vexing parents and teachers who want to discourage young people from picking up the habit.

With Juul’s discreet and odorless nature, teachers have a hard time catching students.

But students are being caught. In Cheatham County, several students received citations last week after they were caught smoking e-cigarettes on a bus.

That makes 16 citations so far this year in that small school district after only the fifth week of school, said school resource officer Chris Gilmore. The year prior, there were 30 citations.

Part of the growing problem — especially because the “big craze” only started a couple years ago — is not knowing where or how underage e-cigarette users are getting their hands on the products they bring to school, Gilmore said.

Some students are even Juuling or vaping during class — and often undetected. Gilmore said the e-cigarette oils can give off a sweet smell, like a perfume, and the vapor dissipates faster than cigarette smoke.

Experts say that the brand’s many flavors, such as mango and mint, make it an attractive product for younger users.

But the nicotine and other chemicals are still there, and so is the danger that people under 25 who vape will open up pathways in their brains that will make them more likely to become addicted to other substances as adults, Smith said.

“We already have a lot of evidence to sound the alarm,” he said Friday. “We do have a problem.”

Last week, the Federal Drug Administration called it an “epidemic.”

How we got here

Smith said what started as a smoking cessation device in its infancy has been overtaken by big tobacco companies, and they don’t want to lose customers. Instead, they are appealing to younger people with small, sleek devices, and the mistaken belief that there is little harm in vapor.

“They have been designed to appeal to a younger generation,” Smith said. “In no way is that an accident. ... It’s no longer a cessation devise. It’s a new nicotine delivery system.”

But those vapors are made up of nicotine and other chemicals, so those users are inhaling potentially dangerous chemicals, not just flavored water, Smith said.

“When we hear ‘vaping,’ it makes it sound less harmful,” he said. “It’s not a humidifier. Not water. You are heating up chemical vapor.”

Smith compared that vapor to the exhaust from automobiles.

And because the brain isn’t fully developed until about age 25, and because young people are more likely to be impulsive, teens who vape could become hardwired to be susceptible to other habits and addictions.

FDA pushing back

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb last week declared youth vaping an “epidemic,” and said the agency will halt sales of flavored electronic cigarettes if the major manufacturers can’t prove they are doing enough to keep them out of the hands of children and teens.

The FDA says it is giving manufacturers of Juul, Vuse, MarkTen XL, Blu and Logic 60 days to submit “robust” plans to prevent youth vaping. If the agency doesn’t think their plans go far enough, it could order their products off the market.

Those five brands make up more than 97 percent of the U.S. market for e-cigarettes, the FDA says.

Smith said parents can do their part to stem the growing use by being a good example, talking to their children about why e-cigarettes are harmful, and telling them to stay away from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Having a doctor talk to them during annual visits helps too.

He said one method he finds most effective is directing them to websites that show how and why tobacco companies are “tricking them,” because many hate being tricked even if they are not as concerned about the heath risks.

Staff reporters Kelly Fisher and Chris Smith and USA TODAY contributed.

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