On September 25, 2019, CNN news announced, “the CEO of Juul is out, as a growing number of vaping-related death and threats of federal regulation present a monumental challenge for the e-cigarette company.” We are approaching a world where the problems caused by the Juul can no longer be ignored. It is fundamental that we understand it, how it affects us, and what solutions we can implement.
The Juul was introduced to the e-cigarette market by Pax Labs in 2015. It was advertised for its sleek design and innovative technology, rapidly dominating the market. After separating from Pax Labs in July 2017, Juul Labs grew to more than five times size by the end of 2018.
The features that distinguish the Juul from its competitors are compact size and unique design. It resembles a thin USB drive, allowing discreet usage in public. The re-fillable cartridges, called “Juul pods”, which are available in a variety of flavours, simplify the refill process. Inside these pods is a unique ingredient, nicotine salts, which is used instead of free-base nicotine. This key ingredient allows Juul users to reach the peak nicotine level within five minutes, mimicking a traditional cigarette. In addition, using nicotine salts results in reduced acidity, making the vapour easier to inhale. Blinded by this, users are often unaware of the amount of nicotine they inhale. Juul pods, although small in size, often contain more nicotine than a pack of cigarettes depending on their concentration.
Recent studies suggest that repeated use of the Juul may lead to harmful side effects. For instance, large intakes of nicotine in adolescent ages may negatively influence brain development. It may also lead to an aggravation of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. A 2019 study conducted among different types of e-cigarettes found that the use of Juul could lead to in vitro cytotoxicity, which comes from nicotine and a flavour-enhancing chemical called ethyl maltol. Propylene glycol, another compound found inside Juul pods, has been related to airway epithelial injury and inflammation.
However, these devices are under lenient regulations around the world. Since modern e-cigarettes, including the Juul, have only become prominent within the last decade, there is no extensive data concerning their impact on the human body. This shortage of data makes it challenging to provide accurate information to protect teenagers from potential harm—surprisingly, 63% of teenagers in a survey conducted in 2017 “did not understand that the Juul products they used always contain nicotine”. Today, the number of teens who use the Juul continues to grow. Stricter regulations and proper education should be implemented to reduce the risk of addiction and possible harm from the use of Juul products.
Mark Seo is majoring in Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University.
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