Caroline Tompkins/The New York Times

September 30, 2019

Public Health Impact of Juuling — Policy Research Shows Disheartening Results

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While the biological explanations of recent vape related deaths and illnesses are still weakly understood, the social impact of Juul and e-cigarettes is clear.

On Sept. 27, the Center for Disease Control and Prevent reported that vaping THC, a compound commonly found in marijuana, is related to 805 cases of lung illnesses and at least 12 deaths reported as a result of vaping e-cigarettes.

A study covering over 500 patients reported 77 percent using THC products in addition to nicotine, whereas only 16 percent of patients only vaped nicotine, and 36 percent vaped only THC products.

The CDC’s findings suggest that THC products play a role in the outbreak. While a pattern in the vaping cases has been found, there is still no clear cause and no single product behind what is making people sick. Regardless, the CDC strongly suggests stopping e-cigarette use, especially those containing THC.

On Sept 28, it was reported that vaping products create an unhealthy byproduct in addition to the nicotine and/or THC present in e-cigarettes, which may be linked to the illnesses and deaths. This byproduct was found to be a mixture of heavy metals that are strongly linked to cancer, lung disease and gastrointestinal disorders.

According to this study, whether it is vaping nicotine, nicotine and THC, or THC alone, vaping in it of itself clearly poses negative health risks.

A compounding issue is the unfavorable marketing techniques used by many of the vape product companies. A joint review by the Departments of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia demonstrated that e-cigarette products are marketed with an emphasis on how adolescents can use them surreptitiously despite the age restrictions and regulations.

This is particularly alarming to doctors, health care professionals, and public health policymakers because teens who use e-cigarettes are just more likely to go on to use combusted tobacco or real cigarettes, a veritable health concern.

In addition, studies conducted in high schools across the nation are finding that bans on e-cigarettes only work to a certain extent. Doctors and public health officials are worried that students are not understanding the harmful side effects of nicotine, let alone understanding the risk of Juuls and E-cigarettes on their growing bodies and minds.

In fact, a recent study published in BMJ’s Tobacco Control suggests that while many young people know about Juuls, they are not aware of its potential harms as an e-cigarette nor are some aware that Juul pods even contain nicotine.

“Throughout my young life, I had educational pieces about the dangers of cigarettes from school and from my parents,” Cole Johnston ’20 said. “A lack of universal literacy and common knowledge has made me feel less wary of e-cigarettes and their negative effects.”

While e-cigarettes have followed the business suit of big tobacco, studies show that stronger regulations such as bans and prohibitions for e-cigarettes for today’s youth vaping crisis may not be ideal.

Dr. Michael Pesko, a health economist and assistant professor of healthcare policy at Weill Cornell Medicine, found that “age restrictions for purchasing were not associated with changes in adolescent smokeless tobacco use, cigar use, or marijuana use.”

Pesko suggests that tobacco products should be regulated proportionate to their risks and e-cigarette evidence suggests they’re less risky products, so it would be a “mistake” to impose the same regulations for tobacco on e-cigarettes..

“I find this a very interesting public health issue because you have a large population of young people addicted to nicotine from using Juuls and little alternative for rehabilitation. In some states, where using nicotine products is illegal under 21, finding nicotine cessation products like nicotine patches is very difficult,” said Debbie Nyakaru ’20.

While this is an epidemic facing the nation, Cornellians and New York State seem to be ahead of the curve. Juul sales are down this semester, significantly, The Sun recently reported.

Furthermore, alcohol and drug awareness posters from Cornell Health have been bolstered to include Juuls. The hashtag ‘2skuuled2juul’ is printed all across campus with the goal to teach young people the truth behind vaping in addition to ‘no vaping’ signs on library and café tables to emphasize smoking bans.

The hard truth is that the implications of the chemicals inside this attractive piece of technology are unknown, but as research continues, studies are likely to show that these products are quite harmful in the long-run.