Submitted by Harry Kanathasan, BSc SRT

Vaping is a relatively new, emerging trend that has been gaining popularity over the last few years. Although vaping is intended as a smoking cessation product, it seems to be gaining popularity with the wrong demographic. Twenty-three percent (23%) of teens have reported trying vaping, and the numbers are continuing to rise (Reid et al., 2019).  Although the controversy continues to rage on about the health impacts of vaping, I wanted to tackle another issue: product design.  Specifically I wanted to focus on the design of one of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes, JUUL(JUUL Labs, Inc., 2019).

Before jumping into the impacts of the design, I think it is important to address what vaping is and where the appeal comes from.  According to the Government of Canada (2019), vaping is “inhaling and exhaling an aerosol produced by a vaping product, such as an electronic cigarette. Vaping does not require burning like cigarette smoking. The device heats a liquid into a vapour, which then turns into aerosol. This vapour is often flavoured and can contain nicotine.”

As vaping does not require the burning of a tobacco product, it is often misconstrued to have fewer carcinogens and thus assumed to be a healthier option. The truth of the matter is that there is no concrete evidence that can validate the safety of vaping or e-cigarette products. In-vitro studies have shown that common base ingredients of the aerosolized liquid, such as glycerol and propylene glycol, can cause irritation, inflammation, and even death of tissue (Eaton et al., 2018).  In addition to this, there is no data on the long-term impacts of vaping (Eaton et al., 2018). It is a mistake to say that vaping is healthier. However, this has not stopped misinformation from spreading, nor the increase of vaping popularity. Marketing on social media and the pre-existing image of bravado brought forth through smoking has caused many to seek the perceived “healthier” choice.

JUUL has been capitalizing on this misinformation and has been making it easy for teens to conceal these vaping products. A JUUL e-cigarette has an uncanny resemblance to a “USB key, pens, remote controls, car fobs, smart phones, sweatshirt drawstrings and even asthma inhalers” that are on the market (Ramamurthi, 2018). The device is so inconspicuous, that at a quick glance it is extremely difficult to detect. With appealing flavours such as “Mango”, “Bubble Gum”, and “I Love Blue Raspberry Candy”, JUUL has essentially dominated the market while making this choice attractive to adolescents, providing an alternative to cigarettes that is equal, if not better. The entire device is light, portable and intuitive to use, and the flavours and large smoke clouds are thought to enhance the smoking experience.  A study published in Pediatrics (2017), surveyed 808 high school students from years 2013-2015. The survey had asked students if they smoked e-cigarettes or tobacco more in the last month, with 8.9 % of students responding that they vaped and 4.8% said that they smoked. However, by the third survey they discovered that the students who used e-cigarettes were 7 times more likely to smoke cigarettes (Bold et al., 2017). The students also prefer to call it “JUULing” compared to vaping as they believed that vaping was more associated with smoking while JUULing was not (Bold et al., 2017).

If the goal is to shift smokers to non-smokers, the opposite effect is occurring instead, placing today’s youth on a path that may lead to nicotine addiction.  Thus, I do believe that a design change is warranted. Larger “vapes” (vape devices) are available that still provide the same smoking experience. I believe that the larger size vapes make the habit less concealable, and hence may act as a slight deterrent for teens. Although the minimalist design of the device is nice to have for those trying to quit, it is not essential. According to JUUL’s own mission statement, the main drive of the company is smoking cessation. If the same effect can be derived from a more blatantly obvious product, I believe that this is one step we should push towards to try and curb the growing utilization of these products by today’s youth.

References

Bold, K. W., Kong, G., Camenga, D. R., Simon, P., Cavallo, D. A., Morean, M. E., & Krishnan-Sarin, S. (2017).
Trajectories of e-cigarette and conventional cigarette use among youth. Pediatrics, 141(1). doi:10.1542/peds.2017-1832.
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29203523

Eaton, D.L., Kwan, L.Y., Stratton, L. (Eds., 2018, January 23).  Public health consequences of e-cigarettes: Toxicology of e-cigarette constituents.
Committee on the Review of the Health Effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems:  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice.  Washington, DC:  National Academies Press.
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507184/

Government of Canada (2019, June 14). About vaping.
Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/smoking-tobacco/vaping.html

JUUL Labs, Inc. (2019).
https://www.juul.ca Ramamurthi, D., Chau, C. & Jackler, R.K.  (2018).
JUUL and other stealth vaporisers: hiding the habit from parents and teachers.  Tobacco Control.
Published Online First: 15 September 2018. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054455.

Reid, J.L., Hammond, D., Tariq, U., Burkhalter, R., Rynard, V.L. & Douglas, O. (2019).
Tobacco use in Canada: Patterns and trends (2019 edition).
Waterloo, ON: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo.
Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/tobacco-use-canada/sites/ca.tobacco-use-canada/files/uploads/files/tobacco_use_in_canada_2019.pdf

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