Frank Augstein, AP
A man breathes vape from an e-cigarette at a vape shop in London, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.

Despite decades of general knowledge about the negative effects of smoking, the effort to reduce the number of smokers and incidents of nicotine addiction never ends. Now, new research highlights the gaps in knowledge and the lack of education about the latest form of tobacco use — electronic cigarettes.

Recent numbers estimate that about 30% of youths between 13-18 have used e-cigarettes. A gap in language, however, reveals that the statistic could be much higher. U.S. health officials are having a hard time measuring underage vaping because to many young people, “juuling” is its own verb and is considered separate from vaping. To get a more accurate number, pollsters have now added “juul” as its own option.

The slim, sleek design of Juuls stands out from other popular vaping products and has caused the product, manufactured by Pax Labs, to become popular among youths. It’s easy to conceal, and the company came under fire earlier this year for ads that appeared to target an underaged demographic. Last year, studies revealed that youths also were unaware that vaping can contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

We have previously cautioned against using a product whose side effects still aren’t fully known. Evidence also shows that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to convert to traditional tobacco products eventually. These troubling facts indicate that decades of effort to reduce smoking in youths, which had seen tremendous progress, are starting to decline in effectiveness.

In an effort to combat this trend and prevent a new generation from becoming tobacco users, a Utah congressman and senator are among those who want to raise the legal smoking age to 21. A new bill, introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., would raise the age for the legal sale of tobacco products, which includes e-cigarettes.

Additionally, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is among a bipartisan group that supports prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. This effort echoes the example set here in Utah, where the Legislature voted earlier this year to raise the smoking age incrementally to 21 by 2021.

The number of youths who have been duped by sleek devices, fun flavor names and a trendy term may be troubling, but hope abounds. Efforts to crack down on underage vaping and to educate teens about the dangers of smoking and nicotine addiction have ramped up significantly in the last year. Lawmakers around the country have taken note, and even youths themselves are becoming advocates to fight the trend.

12 comments on this story

More precise language will give better insight into just how pervasive the problem is. Understanding the scope of the problem is the first step in finding ways to tackle it. Significant steps already have been taken, but it’s ultimately the responsibility of parents, educators and lawmakers to take initiative in educating youths about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes, even by any other name, are still tobacco products. “Juuling” may be considered a part of the youth lexicon, but the repercussions of a new generation becoming addicted lasts much longer than those teenage years. Increased education and smart lawmaking decisions are steps toward a healthy, addiction-free future.