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Is your teen 'juuling'? Why parents and doctors are so worried

'Juuling' is a hit with teenagers and a big concern for families and doctors. Here's what you need to know.

by A. Pawlowski /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY
JUUL e-cigarettes are "flying off" the shelves in some stores because they are discreet, easy to use and powerful. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)Brianna Soukup / Press Herald/Getty Images

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Teens are crazy about “juuling,” but like many parents, Dr. Jenni Levy didn't realize her own 18-year-old daughter was doing it.

Her husband found an unusual cartridge in the laundry that neither recognized. A few days later, they came across an article showing the photo of JUUL, an electronic cigarette that’s discrete, sleek, easily concealed and resembles a flash drive. It’s a hit with teenagers and a big concern for families, teachers and doctors worried about the potential health risks.

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When Levy, an internal medicine and palliative care physician in Allentown, Pennsylvania, asked her daughter Emma about the cartridge, the high school senior freely admitted she was “juuling.”

“She said, ‘It’s mine, it’s legal, I’m 18 and I did my research,’” Levy recalled the conversation in an interview with TODAY.

“I said to her, ‘We think this is a bad idea.’ My biggest concern is she’s sucking in vapor and we don’t know what that does… I am worried about lung damage, I’m worried about addiction. I’m also concerned that it just seemed really out of character for our very level-headed, risk-averse kid — this was something I never thought I was going to have to worry about with her.”

Emma Smith, left, poses with her mom Jenni Levy during her 18th birthday party last month.Courtesy Jenni Levy

Emma told her mom she was “juuling” because she didn’t think it was dangerous. She “rolled her eyes” when Levy mentioned the potential health risks. She also told her mom she found “juuling” fun and pretty — she liked blowing smoke rings with the vapor — and her friends were doing it.

Doctors are concerned there’s a misconception among teens that e-cigarettes are safe. Smoking e-cigarettes actually delivers cancer-causing chemicals that get into the body — and popular fruity flavors appear to be the worst, researchers reported earlier this month.

Percentage of middle-school and high-school students who have ever used e-cigarettes

“I do think this is one of the big threats to teen health right now,” said Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle pediatrician who writes the Seattle Mama Doc blog.

“These are a delivery vehicle for nicotine and we know that nicotine is addictive.”

Each JUUL pod contains an amount of nicotine equivalent to one pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs, according to JUUL Labs, the manufacturer.

Visitors to the company’s website are greeted by a message noting its products are “intended for adult smokers.” Online customers must be 21 or older and the company says preventing the illegal sale of the products to youth is core to its mission.

Still, Twitter and Instagram are filled with posts showing young people “juuling.” The harmless-sounding name for the activity — instead of “smoking” or “vaping” — and the appealing pod flavors, like “Mango” and “Fruit Medley” create an illusion of safety, Swanson said.

“This is dangerous and I think it’s concerning. Parents just need to be really clear to spell out the real risks – that these are likely delivering chemicals that are really bad for these kids,” she noted.

A school district in Pennsylvania last month banned flash drives because they looked so much like the e-cigarettes. The concern was kids could “juul” in front of teachers without the adults realizing it.

Levy told her 18-year-old daughter Emma that she couldn’t vape in the family’s house. She’s never seen Emma use the device and doesn’t think the girl will move on to regular cigarettes.

“I do think she’ll quit,” Levy said.

What to say to your teens:

Swanson offered these tips for parents who are concerned their kids are “juuling:”

• Ask your teens what they know about “juuling.”

• Be clear that you’re learning about this issue together, but mention that vaping is not in your child’s best interest: “Don’t believe that just because it’s not a burning cigarette it’s safe,” Swanson advised saying. “E-cigarettes are not good for you nor is becoming addicted to nicotine.”

• Emphasize that “juuling” still means using nicotine. Using that alternative, innocuous-sounding buzzword creates a “divorce” from decades of health campaigns designed to help the public understand that “cigarettes are bad for you, cigarettes will shorten your life, cigarettes will cause harm,” Swanson said.

Follow A. Pawlowski on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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