By Sara L. Manewith, AM, Response for Teens Director
Response for Teens helps young people learn to make healthy decisions for themselves. Supporting young people to handle peer pressure, trust their judgement, follow their values, and behave accordingly is central to our community education and clinical work.
For this reason we are appalled – though sadly, not surprised – that the makers of the Juul e-cigarette device disregarded early evidence that it was hooking teens on its product. While evidence of early teen use was apparent, it is also well-known that to tobacco companies, the teen market is the most profitable: Teens who begin using tobacco are the most likely to develop life-long addiction, assuring product sales.
Following the product’s launch in 2015, it took nearly 3 years before the company developed a strategy to curb sales to youth. By that time, more than 3 million high school students – one in five – had tried an e-cigarette; this number appears to be rising, with as many as 1:4 having used e-cigarettes in the past month (preceding the study).
Recently, the American Heart Association launched End the Lies Youth Vaping and Nicotine Research Initiative, a massive research project and community engagement campaign designed to empower kids, schools and communities to call out JUUL and other e-cigarette companies for targeting teens. With funding of $20 million, the AHA seeks to "answer critical questions about the health consequences of e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction, particularly in youth," said AHA President Robert A. Harrington, MD, FAHA.
Risk-taking is a natural, developmental part of adolescence. Some risk-taking is beneficial: Trying something new, going out for a team or school club, riding the bus alone for the first time. But we know that some teens engage in risky behavior that is worrisome: unsafe sex; the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. When corporations market dangerous products directly to teens, they are manipulating young people, and preying directly on their vulnerability.