One of the most annoying trends to reach adolescents within the past few years is vaping. Not only do users not realize that they look utterly obnoxious blowing smoke clouds everywhere, but also, they may not know that they are inevitably contributing to a nicotine addiction. Most e-cigarettes or vape products contain an oil form of nicotine that is vaporized when heated. Take Juul Labs, the makers of the ubiquitous USB-shaped device of the same name, for example. Their website states that products come in two varieties that have either three or five percent nicotine by weight. That translates to about 23 and 40 mg, respectively, of nicotine per pod. According to a March 15 NPR article, the average domestically made cigarette contains between 1.1 to 1.7 mg of nicotine. The Juul Labs website also notes that each pod lasts for around 200 puffs. Knowing this, it is ludicrous that people under 18 are able to acquire these products, and the retailers supplying and marketing them are at fault. 

On Sept. 12, the FDA acknowledged the severity of adolescent e-cigarette use, saying it had reached an “epidemic proportion,” and gave makers only 60 days to make their devices less accessible to adolescents, according to a Sept. 12 New York Times article. The same article points out that while those using e-cigarettes are not exposed to all of the chemicals found in traditional cigarettes, they are exposed to higher levels of nicotine. In 2016, the FDA banned sale of e-cigarettes to minors under the age of 18, yet this summer, the FDA had to send warning letters to over 1,000 retailers demanding that they stop selling their products to minors. As part of the  current plan, if Juul Labs and other retailers do not comply and make their products less accessible, the FDA will ban sales of flavored products and press criminal charges for bulk sales. While it is not the direct fault of Juul Labs — as their website requires a legal name, address and social security number before allowing someone to make a purchase — the backlash faced from adolescent use is representative of their current branding. 

Part of diverting teens from e-cigarette use is removing the initial appeal behind it. According to the FDA in 2017, more than two million middle and high school students were active users of e-cigarettes. 81 percent of youth users were primarily enticed by the appealing flavors. A ban on the fruit flavors might not be entirely bad, since it is one of the main reasons that adolescents are drawn to e-cigarettes. Without the appeal of a fun flavor, some might find smoking pointless. While there are e-cigarettes that market themselves as having no nicotine, the reality is that most do. Aside from flavors, the design of this new generation of e-cigarettes is another part of why they appeal to teens. Juuls are compact and resemble a flash drive. To some, it might be exciting to bring it to school and use it surreptitiously in class. 

A description of Juul Labs states that “When they [company founders James Monsees and Adam Bowen] could find no attractive alternative to cigarettes, James and Adam recognized a groundbreaking opportunity to apply industrial design to the smoking industry.” 

Smoking isn’t supposed to be attractive or glamorous. It is a life-threatening vice that turns into an addiction with continued use. Rebranding it to make it more cool or socially acceptable only gives teens the idea that it isn’t as detrimental — or obnoxious — as it actually is. Before we know it, the smoking rooms of the 1950s may soon be revived as vaping rooms. 

Aside from possible nicotine addiction, the reason that this trend is so outraging is the fact that adolescents, some not even old enough to legally vote, are causing irreversible damage to their brain. Before the age of 25, the human brain is still developing. The prefrontal cortex, specifically, is the region responsible for executive function and decision making, and is one of the last regions to fully develop. A 2015 paper published in the Journal of Physiology demonstrated that adolescent exposure to nicotine in rats leads to enhanced acquisition of cocaine and alcohol later in life. Granted, rodents do not function the exact same way as humans, but similar studies in humans have shown similar results for different drugs of abuse. 

Realizing the risks at hand for their sales and for potential users, Juul Labs has tried to make their products less marketable by requesting that Instagram remove over 5,500 posts and that Amazon and Facebook do the same, according to the same Sep.12 New York Times article. They have also revamped their advertisements to feature only individuals over the age of 35, instead of 21, to ensure that they hit the targeted demographic of adult smokers, according to an Aug. 27 New York Times article. In addition to modifying their ads, product names have been modified from: “crème brûlée” and “cool cucumber” to just “creme” and “cucumber,” in hopes that the names might help lose some of the appeal. They have also planned to spend $30 million on combating underage vaping, enlisting the aid of Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, to run an advisory board to counsel Juul on their efforts. While these efforts are admirable, Juul Labs has already  undoubtedly contributed to the rise in teenage e-cigarette use due to the sheer popularity of their product.

Teens are responsible for making wiser choices when it comes to their health, but companies and retailers should also ensure that their products are not easily accessible to impressionable youth. Just as there are posters in almost every gas station and corner store reminding patrons of the legal age to buy cigarettes, the same should apply to e-cigarettes and refill cartridges.