Editor’s Note: Phillip Fuhrman is an 11th grader in New York City who has spoken before a congressional subcommittee on this topic. His mother, Dorian Fuhrman, is one of the cofounders of Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes (PAVe). The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Like most teens my age, I’ve had the dangers posed by cigarettes ingrained in me for as long as I can remember. My grandfather had COPD and battled lung cancer twice. In health class, I saw the pictures of blackened lungs. I was taught that smoking kills.
No one warned me about the dangers of e-cigarettes.
When I started using Juul – the leading e-cigarette maker – three years ago, I was hooked by the familiar flavor of mint and the sleek, high-tech device that first gave me a quick buzz — and then an addiction I couldn’t shake. I was 14 years old.
Knowing that flavors like mint are what drew me and my friends, I was thrilled that they called for getting rid of all flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol. These flavors make e-cigarettes seem safe and fun, as harmless as mint gum.
Reports now indicate the administration may be backtracking on mint and menthol, but it shouldn’t.
Today, the Food and Drug Administration says that these two flavors are the choice of 64% of high-school e-cigarette users. In 2017, according to a report from the FDA, 2.1 million middle and high school students were vaping – what it’s called when you use an e-cigarette product. In two years, that number has grown to more than five million.
We can’t let any more kids get trapped by these flavors, the way I was.
My Juul became an everyday accessory for me, no different than the watch on my wrist or the phone in my pocket. One Juul pod can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, but the minty flavor made that easy to forget. There was no smoky stench lingering on my clothes or breath. And Juuls were everywhere I turned: among my friends, at parties and in convenience stores, right beside the candies and gum.
I never thought this device would threaten my health and take over my life, but it did. I became hooked, and so did my friends. We couldn’t stop. If an adult confiscated one of our Juuls, it didn’t matter. We could just share with somebody else. If our parents saw a Juul device in our rooms, it was no big deal. They look like flash drives, after all. We inhaled nicotine constantly, masked by the cooling flavor.
Vaping seemed like a harmless habit, a way to fit in with friends. But take it from me – there’s nothing harmless about nicotine addiction. I couldn’t sleep at night, had intense mood swings and became increasingly dehydrated. To buy my favorite mint pods, I wasted my hard-earned money from working three summers as a camp counselor. When my mom found and took away my Juul, it caused tremendous tension and I started to realize how addicted I was.
Now, I’m a recovering vaper. It’s hard – and Juul is still everywhere. They’re still in social media posts and in stores near my school. Juul says they’re going to stop selling kid-friendly flavors, but they are clinging to the menthol flavor which will become the new go-to flavor for so many of my friends.
In September, Juul’s former CEO stepped down as scrutiny over e-cigarettes increased. Today, Juul has a new boss who spent about two decades working for Altria, the company that makes Marlboro. History is repeating itself, but this time, it’s mint-flavored and rechargeable.
If the administration exempts mint and menthol – or even just menthol – from the flavored e-cigarette ban, Juul will win and kids will lose. If lawmakers really care about our development and well-being, they’ll ban these flavors, too, and protect us from becoming the generation of e-smokers.
E-cigarettes threatened my health and complicated a critical chapter of my life. Juul won’t willingly give up menthol. It’s up to our leaders to stand up and show teens that our health matters more than Juul’s profits.