LA PORTE – “Tobacco products are the only thing that if you use correctly, you will die.”
That was the blunt message from Jennifer Olson, executive director of Healthy Communities of La Porte County, at an informational session for teens on the dangers of using the Juul or other electronic cigarettes on Nov. 13 the La Porte County Library.
Juul cigarettes are a popular choice for children, specifically those in middle and high school, for a variety of reasons, Null said. Their bright colors, flavors and discreet sizes and shapes are very alluring to this demographic.
A Juul are about the size of a pen, and looks similar to a flash drive. They take disposable "pods" that you insert into the rechargeable device. Pods come in packs of four, and each has the equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes.
People who smoke Juuls often go through a pod a day, which is the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes, Null said. The cost of a four-pack, around $14, is cheaper than four packs of cigarettes.
Traditional cigarettes have been found to be less appealing to children and young adults, and tobacco companies needed a way to entice the "replacement generation" (adults under 30) as older, traditional smokers pass on or quit, according to Null. Companies spend millions on strategic placement and advertisement of e-cigarettes.
One tactic is selling e-cigarettes alongside or near candy and gum items in convenience stores, she said.
"Ads often show hip, young adults smiling and having fun while smoking the e-cigarette in a social setting. Juul even has a 'party mode,' which encourages smokers to pass the cigarettes around in a group as the lights change color, a tactic used to try to hook non-smokers via peer pressure."
The social stigma of smoking a regular cigarette is lost on e-cigarettes as they have fruity or candy flavors, don't leave a residual smell, and are easier to conceal, Null said. While you have to be 18 to buy a Juul or other electronic cigarette, younger children often find older teens to buy for them.
The video showed the usual age for the Juul is 14-16. The brains of children in this age group are more easily addicted to substances such as nicotine, studies show. The Juul nicotine content is 5 percent, where a traditional cigarette contains only 1.23 percent.
The video showed a 14-year-old with a Juul saying, “If I get stressed, it's my go-to. I know it's bad, but I can't stop.”
Another teen says, “I get a nice head rush. It's priceless. I Juul during class when the teacher isn't looking, the vapor disperses quick so I don't get caught. Sometimes I'll go to the bathroom and smoke in there.
"A lot of us need this stuff to be satisfied. Everyone I know use Juuls.”
The perception that "all my friends" are using Juul is commonplace, Null said. A study showed that around 50 percent of middle schoolers and 65 percent of high schoolers have tried an e-cigarette at least once. Youth polled often said they would not smoke a traditional cigarette, but had the opposite attitude for vaping.
And Null said secondhand smoke from an e-cigarette is just as bad as from a regular one. The vapor emitted from an e-cigarette is not just water vapor, the common conception, but an aerosol. Some of the negative effects include cancer risks, high blood pressure (hypertension), insulin problems, harm to brain development, memory, coordination and impulse control.
While the e-cigarette was initially developed to help smokers of traditional cigarettes switch and ease into quitting, tobacco companies began to realize the market share of addicting youth early for lifelong consumers of tobacco, Null said. The ad campaigns are quite similar, showing actors and actresses using the product, being trendy, relaxed and oozing sex appeal.
The FDA currently does not know the long-term effects of smoking e-cigarettes. The European Union has banned the sale of such devices, but nothing has been done in the U.S., where e-cigarettes are often falsely advertised as a safe alternative to smoking.
“E-cigarettes are the iPhone of cigarettes, they're more cool, a techy gadget that youth often trust modern stuff more," Null said. "These are the Facebook of smoking devices, widely appealing to children and young adults.”
Olson said she quit smoking 12 years ago, and at the time, her children helped her quit and watched her go through withdrawal.
She then held up a vaping device, saying she found it in her son's room, and even heard her daughter say she'd tried e-cigarettes.
“La Porte County has tobacco swamps, or areas of high use for tobacco products," Olson said. "These are generally in lower-income areas – there is an income disparity associated with smoking.”
Indiana currently has one of the lowest tax rates on tobacco products, and in turn, the second-highest percentage of tobacco users.
Olson also the number one cause of school suspensions was vaping.
La Porte Community Schools offers a "Slicer Support" program, and encourages children to visit the school counselor if they have addiction problems, promising students they will not be in trouble if they speak to the counselor, she said.