Dangerous 'Juuling' trend among teenagers raises health concerns

Aside from nicotine poisoning risk, FDA warns of gateway to 'years of addiction'

By Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

SUNRISE, Fla. - It's a question for any South Florida parent: Is your child "Juul-ing" in school? 

The popularity of E-cigarettes and vape products came about with many adults trying to quit smoking. But recently huge concerns have surfaced over teens becoming addicted to the nicotine products, commonly referred to as electronic nicotine delivery systems.

"It's everywhere," said a mother, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. "In the classrooms, the bathrooms, everywhere."

The Juul device can be disguised as a USB drive. The device works by heating up liquid nicotine, which is then inhaled as a vapor. It comes in a variety of flavors, like Mango, Fruit Medley and Crème Brulee. 

"Everyone is doing it and nobody knows about it," the concerned mother said. "It's like an underground little secret."

She said at least one local student has ended up in the hospital after complications from "Juuling." 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics the "Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include vomiting, sweating, dizziness, increased heart rate, lethargy, seizures, and difficulty breathing."

"Pretty popular" said 15 year-old Broward County resident Danielle. "I think it's like to get a buzz, to get all woozy and stuff."

For most young people using a Juul would be their first experience with nicotine. Experts worry that in just one Juul pod is the nicotine equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. 

"They can carry it in their hand just like this it's not detectable and they go to cough and it's as simple as that, taking a hit," said Don Maines, the Broward Sheriff's Office substance abuse research and program manager.

Maines said the Juul problem has been exploding in the last six months. He said some students have even figured out how to insert other substances into the Juul pods, including THC, or synthetic marijuana. 

 "It's a scourge — almost impossible to battle it mostly because the Juuls are so small," the head of one private school in Broward County said. "I can walk into any class in the high school and I can guarantee at least one student is doing it right under the teacher's nose."

Nicotine delivery systems are illegal for kids under 18, but students said they can buy them online and at South Florida stores. Danielle was able to buy a pack of Juul pods at the Vapor Life shop in Sunrise. An employee at the store said he asked the teen for identification when he sold the pods, and he believed her when she said she forgot her license at work. 

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced an undercover blitz found 40 retailers in violation for illegal sales to young people. The federal agency is cracking down on stores selling to underage people and also targeting online retailers and manufacturers suspected of marketing to kids, which is a concern because research shows "the nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent's brain, leading to years of addiction." 

Teens themselves now among those saying Juuling is a problem for young people. A newly released public service announcement produced by a New York area high school student features several teens coming forward about their struggles with nicotine addiction from using Juul. 

The manufacturer Juul Labs states their product is only intended for adult use. The company also released a recent statement announcing their support of federal and state initiatives to raise the minimum purchase age to 21 for these products. That's something the company says it has already done on its own website. The company has also pledged to invest $30 million toward research and education. 
 

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