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A new study by researchers from UC Riverside and Portland State University have determined that the nicotine levels in the popular JUUL e-cigarettes are high enough to be toxic to living cells. This study adds to the evidence that JUUL can be particularly dangerous, especially to young users who are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of nicotine.

Study Shows JUUL Nicotine Levels Higher Than Other E-Cigarettes

The study was published in the scientific journal Chemical Research in Toxicology in March 2019, and involved laboratory tests on pre-filled JUUL e-cigarette cartridges (pods). These pods are liquid cartridges that include nicotine and other ingredients like glycerol, propylene glycol, benzoic acid, and flavorings.

Scientists used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze the nicotine and flavor chemicals in the pod solutions before and after vaping. They identified a total of 59 flavor chemicals, writing that some JUUL flavor pods

“have sufficiently high concentrations of flavor chemicals that may make them attractive to youth….”

The nicotine concentrations averaged 60.9 mg/mL—equivalent to more than one pack of conventional cigarettes—which is significantly higher than any of the other e-cigarette products the scientists had previously analyzed. The nicotine transferred from the pod fluid to the vaping aerosol at about 35-80 percent.

When testing the nicotine concentrations in the lab with cultured respiratory system cells, researchers found that the nicotine was sufficiently high enough to be toxic to those cells, “emphasizing the need to determine if JUUL products will lead to adverse health effects with chronic use.”

Studies Reveal Dangers of E-Cigarettes; Many Youth Unaware

Studies like these are important, as the FDA has identified the use of e-cigarettes among youth as an “epidemic.” According to an FDA news release and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 4.9 million middle and high school students were using some type of tobacco product in 2018, up from 3.6 million in 2017, with the increase driven by “an alarming surge in e-cigarette use.”

The FDA has linked this rise to the popularity of products like JUUL, which is a discreet vaping tool that resembles a flash-drive. It’s easy to use, easy to hide from parents and teachers, and comes in enticing flavors like cool mint and crème brûlée. The higher nicotine hit also makes it quickly addictive.

The FDA has already banned traditional cigarettes with kid-appealing flavors and is now examining options for regulating e-cigarettes in a similar manner. They are considering, for example, restricting sales of fruity and sweet flavored e-cigarettes to only adult-only, in-person stores, and removing them completely from convenience stores and gas stations.

Meanwhile, there is evidence showing that many young people are simply not aware of the danger e-cigarettes post. A Truth Initiative study published in Tobacco Control found that 63 percent of young people—more than half—did not know that the JUUL e-cigarette always contained nicotine. Starting nicotine at a young age is dangerous as it increases the risk of future addiction and the risk of both physical and mental health problems down the road.

A 2017 study, for example, showed that young people using e-cigarettes were more than four times as likely to begin smoking regular tobacco cigarettes within 18 months as their peers who didn’t use e-cigarettes. The Surgeon General also states that e-cigarette use increases the possibility of long-term harm to brain development, mood disorders, and attention and learning disorders.

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