My younger sister Elyssa’s 12-year-old friends are addicted to nicotine. Elyssa shared with me that students in her class go to the bathroom to sneak a puff of their JUULs as part of their daily routines. 

This addictive habit has become so excessive that children have started to hide JUULs in their sleeves in order to smoke in school. 

Many children hide the device from their parents because they know that their use is illegal and inappropriate. “I don’t go anywhere where there isn’t a parent in the audience who isn’t concerned about the JUUL,” Matthew Myers, the president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told Business Insider. “I’ve never seen a phenomenon like this before.” 

The stated mission of the JUUL is to serve as a healthy alternative for adults who are active smokers. Instead of acting as an aid for adults to stop smoking, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that the majority of JUUL users are children under the ages of 18. JUUL Labs Inc. claims it did not see this coming. “This company is here to improve the lives of smokers,” Ashley Gould, JUUL’s chief administrative officer, told Business Insider. 

According to the FDA, from 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use increased by an alarming 78% for high schoolers and 48% for middle schoolers. A study published in Tobacco Control revealed that 15- to 17-year-olds have over 16 times greater odds to be current JUUL users compared to those of 25-34 years of age. 

As a college student-athlete, it’s difficult for me to watch my peers and young people develop an unhealthy addiction. On Elon University’s campus, I regularly see students carrying this e-cigarette in their hand at all times. 

JUUL, introduced in 2015, is too new to have significant data concerning its product risk, but outside research has shown dangers of its use. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, found that teens who use the JUUL are at risk of breathing in cancer-causing chemicals, especially in flavored pods. 

Even when the product does not contain nicotine, these e-cigarettes are found to have just as harmful cancer-causing substances that are found in tobacco cigarettes. 

My classmates should consider this information the next time they want to hit a JUUL for the short “buzz” they hope to receive. 

The slick packaging of the product is one of the main contributors to its popularity. Another worrisome contributing factor to youth addiction is that JUUL provides such appealing flavors. 

Providing attractive vapor pod flavors such as mango, fruit medley and mint is dangerous, and easily leads to addiction due to the high nicotine content. One JUUL pod is equivalent to one pack of 20 individual cigarettes. The device delivers the nicotine 2.7 times faster than the average e-cigarette, giving an instant “buzz” feeling. 

JUUL posted a series of ads between the years of 2015-2017 on YouTube and social media of young people enjoying their products. The FDA mandates users to be at least 18 years of age to use tobacco products, but some states and cities have raised the age to buy them to 21.

JUUL’s advertising was seen as controversial because of the models used for the ads who looked as young as 18 years old, appealing to young teens. 

According to Smokefree Teen, a government initiative, teens are especially sensitive to nicotine’s addictive effects because their brains are still developing, increasing the risk of them getting hooked. The use of nicotine can also allow the mind to become accustomed to being addicted to other drugs easily. It has long-term effects on brain development creating concentration, impulse control and learning challenges. 

Altria, the company that produces Marlboro and other cigarettes, has a 35% stake in JUUL. 

Scott Gottlieb, who recently stepped down as the Food and Drug Commissioner, called this teenage JUUL addiction an “epidemic.” He announced that his team would strive to put an end to the selling of e-cigarettes to minors and warned of a possible ban on flavored e-cigarette liquids. He believes that the use of tobacco products by the nation’s children is a “pediatric disease” that introduces new generations of tobacco-dependent children and adults. 

In September 2018, the FDA gave JUUL Labs 60 days to show it can prevent minors from obtaining its products. JUUL decided to stop selling the majority of its flavored nicotine pods for its e-cigarette use in retail stores. A CNBC Health and Science article noted JUUL CEO Kevin Burns said that users of 21 years of age and older would still be able to buy any pods on JUUL’s website, and its four tobacco- and menthol-flavored pods in retail stores. 

The FDA singled out JUUL to ban sales to anyone under 21, even where the state’s legal age is lower. Clerks now must electronically scan IDs and verify consumers are 21 years of age or older, regardless of local laws. 

I understand that JUUL has attempted to find neutrality with the FDA, but the work that they have done is not going to achieve the FDA’s request to put an end to teen nicotine addiction. The age restriction of 18 years old did not stop the distribution of this product to minors, and neither will the limitation to 21 years old. Many kids can easily ask an older sibling, a friend or an adult to buy it for them, or even go to the extent of purchasing a fake ID. 

Raising the age restriction to a higher age might be more helpful in order to end minors’ nicotine addiction. According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, nearly 9 out of 10 adult smokers starts by the age of 26. 

I believe 26 is a reasonable minimum age to distribute the JUUL and other e-cigarette products, especially if JUUL is truly meant to be a healthy alternative for current smokers to help them stop smoking. A 26-year-old is less likely to assist a minor in illegally purchasing the product than a 21-year- old.

E-cigarettes like JUUL create an addiction that’s spreading to young people, and this must come to an end. Raising age restrictions is a good place to start curbing this problem.