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What Every Parent Needs To Know About Vaping

It's the popular device your teen has (probably) already tried.

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close up of a young woman smoking a vape pen
GEtty Images
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When it comes to the rampant high-school vaping epidemic, education is your best defense. In a poll of teen vapers, the Girlfriend asked how parents should warn their kids about vaping without getting a major eye roll. One 17-year-old said it best: “They should be fully informed about the topic before having that discussion. One of the biggest things I've found that determines whether or not a child will listen to you is your credibility.”

What’s a Juul e-cigarette device?
Marketed as a smoking-cessation tool, this small, rectangular device looks like a USB drive and operates much like other e-cigarettes, using a rechargeable battery to heat liquid nicotine into an inhaled vapor. The Juul uses disposable pods to hold the “e-liquid,” or “juice” as it’s called, and the pods come in different flavors.

It’s getting the most attention because it has rapidly overtaken more than half of the $2 billion e-cig marketplace and has become teenagers’ vape of choice.

Why is it so popular?
Juuls are called the “iPhone of vapes.” They’re slick, small and can be easily charged in a laptop’s USB port (kids actually charge them in class and teachers have no idea). Also, Juuls don’t emit a lot of vapor like other e-cigs that let out big clouds, so it’s easier to hide when you’re using it — and after you’re done.

But one of the biggest reasons teens prefer Juul is perception and the culture. In the eyes of most kids, Juuling — that’s the term — is different than vaping.

“The whole vape scene can get a little sketchy,” said a 15-year-old. “But Juuling isn’t considered as gross. It’s more mainstream and acceptable. Like you can pull one out every once in a while and no one is going to think you’re this hard-core vaper.”

What’s the appeal anyway?
Kids who keep Juuling like three things in particular: flavor, buzz and “throat hit.” Pods and e-juice are made to be tasty, and you can buy them in mango, mint, crème brûlée and more. A recent Food and Drug Administration study found that “85 percent of current e-cigarette users age 12-17 had used a flavored product in the past month and 81.5 percent of those young users cited flavors as the reason for their use of the product.”

Once you inhale the nicotine, it creates a short-lasting buzz. Throat hit is the sensation when the vapor “hits” the back of the throat — some describe it as “warm” and “satisfying.”

How easy is it to get addicted?
A lot of teens have the false notion that because Juuls are marketed as anti-smoking devices that they aren’t as addictive or damaging as cigarettes. According to, each pod is designed to contain about “0.7mL with 5 percent nicotine by weight … approximately equivalent to 1 pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs.” Or worse, they don’t know they’re inhaling nicotine. According to a study by the Truth Initiative, 63 percent of Juul users [age 15-24] “did not know that this product always contains nicotine.” Nicotine is particularly damaging to the developing teenage brain and rewires receptors, leaving the user more prone to addiction.

How much does a Juul cost and where are kids getting them?
One mom noticed her son’s debit card had repeated $40 transactions. Turns out he looks old enough to get them (depending on where you live, the age is 18 or 21) and was taking cash from friends to buy Juuls at gas stations. The Juul alone runs $35. A Juul starter kit costs $50 and comes with four flavored pods. A four-pack of pods costs $15. Online vendors are cracking down on underage buyers, but it can be done. Sometimes a teen’s older siblings will hook them up. Plus, there’s a brisk resale market among kids right on campus.

Are they being used to get high?
Gone are the days of picking seeds out of weed. Nowadays, kids buy liquid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), an oil-based distillation of the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana. They add drops of that into the e-liquid cartridges and inhale it along with the flavored e-juice. Aside from the very dangerous fact that kids have NO idea how much THC they’re actually ingesting, it’s almost impossible for adults to smell because the odor is masked by the flavor scent. Juul pods are small, so it can be a little more difficult to add the THC, but it’s doable.

What do I do if my teen is already addicted?
The nicotine salts in a Juul deliver more of the drug per puff. Many kids have no idea they’re even inhaling it. While in some ways it is safer than traditional cigarettes (because it doesn’t have the cancer-causing tar), it is just as difficult to kick the habit. It may be hard to suggest that to your teen, but experts recommend switching to a different vape that holds nicotine-free e-juice.