The Juul Fad Is Far Bigger Than I Ever Would Have Guessed

The University of Michigan’s adolescent drug survey announced some dramatic results today:

Increases in adolescent vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest ever recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the U.S.

Here’s a chart:

I had two immediate reactions:

  • In just a few years, vaping has wiped out two decades of work getting teens to quit (or never start) cigarette smoking. In 1997, the survey recorded that 36 percent of 12th graders had smoked in the past 30 days. This year, the combination of vaping and cigarette use hit 34 percent.
  • Can this really be true? After three years of relative stability at around 15 percent, vaping suddenly skyrocketed to 27 percent in a single year?

Nearly all of the increase comes from an increase in vaping nicotine, and my skepticism about this disappeared when I looked up revenue figures for Juul, the top seller of vaping devices and pods. I knew that the Juul fad had practically taken over American high schools recently, but it turns out that Juul reported a monster revenue increase of nearly 800 percent between 2017 and 2018 (from $107 million to $942 million), and they control about 75 percent of the market. That’s enough all by itself to account for a huge single-year increase in vaping.

So the answer appears to be yes, this really can be true. Vaping in general, and Juul in particular, have wiped out years of hard work to get teens off of cigarettes. And since most of the increase is in vaping nicotine, it means we’re raising yet another generation of addicts, sucked in by the same kind of marketing that was originally used to suck them into cigarette smoking. What a crime this is.

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If you're new to Mother Jones or aren't yet sold on supporting our nonprofit reporting, please take a moment to read Monika Bauerlein's post about our priorities after these chaotic several years, and why this relatively quiet moment is also an urgent one for our democracy and Mother Jones’ bottom line—and if you find it compelling, please join us.

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