Gen Z: The Addiction Lives On
December 7, 2018
“What is that smell? Is that mango Juul?? Who is Juuling?” The girl was visibly agitated. “I just have trouble focusing with that smell,” she said. “I keep thinking about Juuling.” It turned out that the smell was not someone “Juuling” with a mango flavored nicotine pod, but was instead some especially fragrant body lotion. Even so, the implications of this incident were still severe: this smell was visibly distracting. I could see the physical reaction this smell and the thought of Juuling had on my peer in class.
I realized, almost for the first time, that this was addiction. This was what the health professionals and Drug Abuse Resistance Education volunteers who had been coming to my classrooms since I was little had warned about. A distinct memory has been floating at the front of my mind lately: it was an optimistic woman, hair pulled back, with bangs, who came to my classroom in elementary school and showed my class all of the “nasty” stuff that was in cigarettes. Nail polish, acetone, tar, etc. I remember looking at in disgust. She then looked up at us. ‘You can be the last generation,” she said almost breathlessly, “You can be the last generation to smoke.”
The way Juul has taken off since it’s infancy in 2015 has shown me that this idea is really only that: an idea. Juul is a device that perfectly plays to a teenager’s love of sleek, technologically advanced gadgets as well as a penchant for some kind of rebellion. We don’t want to smoke cigarettes: “No, I don’t smoke cigs. Do you know what is in those?” were all responses I got from asking students about their vaping/smoking habits. But when Juuls were brought up, words like “sleek,” and “fun,” began to emerge. Juuls are a vaping device that can be used to inhale nicotine. Until recently, this sleek device could hold flavors like “Crème Brule,” “Cool Cucumber,” and “juicy mango.” Juul’s advertisements were colorful, fun, and predominantly featured young people teenagers could identify with. It makes sense: it is far more profitable for e-cigarette companies to attract young people who will be loyal (i.e. addicted) customers for a longer period of time. Juul was new technology whose popularity spread through social media, memes and eBay. It was a truly 21st century device that was creating a truly 21st century problem.
“At this point, we do not know what the effects are,” states Dean of Students Glenna Stiles about vaping and Juul. Because e-cigarettes, and specifically Juuls are so new (Juul came to the market in 2015), the effects of these high-dose nicotine devices and the chemicals inside of them are still unclear. What we do know is that Juul devices offer an extremely high dose of one of the most addictive drugs: nicotine. Dr. Mary Williams, based in the AHS School Based Health Center notes that nicotine can constrict blood vessels, raise blood pressure and change the composition of your brain. But the most dangerous aspect of nicotine is its highly addictive properties. Speaking to Williams, there was a moment when she said something that simply sent shivers down my spine: “Addiction is a negation of freedom.” As teenagers are “rebelling” for our chance at freedom, it is ironic that we move toward vapes. It is a rebellion for sure, but addiction to nicotine makes us less free. We are a slave to the drug, and once addicted, likely will be for the rest of our lives.
The novelty of Juuls has also made it extremely difficult for schools to combat this radical social change. Stiles notes that through the healthy teen survey, Ashland High School had gotten down to 5% tobacco use for juniors. It was a victory. But then, Juuls came to schools so fast, public service campaigns and education has been slow to catch up. An Ashland High School junior notes that people seem to think Juuls are healthy or not harmful. “I will see someone post a picture of them with a salad, a yerba mate, a face mask and a Juul and caption it ‘self-care.” It is not healthy. But it is this misinformation, and frankly lack of information that makes this Juul epidemic so dangerous.
In a sobering conversation with Stiles, she said two things that sent shivers down my spine: “This generation who is choosing to Juul and vape, is the entire industries test case. And we don’t know what is going to happen.” It is discouraging to see how fast Juuls are becoming a part of popular culture and the fabric of my generation. “Juuling” is so well known is has become a verb. I don’t want to be the test case. I don’t want to look back, 20 years from now, when long-term studies have come out, and see that this thing we thought was benign and just a way to enjoy fruity flavor, was actually detrimental to our health. Like Stiles says, “I’m guessing we are going to find it [Juuling] is not as harmless as we all think it is.”
The sink turns in and the paper towel dispenser beeps. It might be just a normal day in the girls’ bathroom, but for a faintly metallic, sickly sweet swell wafting up from one of the stalls. It is mango.