Well hello there, teens!
*Turns baseball cap around*
*Pulls up chair*
*Flips it around backward*
Let’s talk about Juuling.
There are endless articles warning parents about the dangers of the Juul, a new e-cigarette device so slick, small and covert that it looks like a thumb drive. It produces so little vapor or “smoke” that a teen can cradle it in their hand, steal a puff in geometry class, blow the smoke directly into the sleeve of their hoodie, and resume earnestly paying attention before Teach turns back from the blackboard.
With its clever packaging and kid-friendly flavors, Juul has become an unwitting accessory to the perfect teenage crime. The problem has gotten so bad that schools are taking the hinges off bathroom doors so kids can’t sneak a drag, and banning USB memory sticks so kids can’t use them to charge up their device.
But maybe it’s the teens, not just their parents, who should be getting these warnings — because some parents are exploiting these very features to get away with Juuling in private, too. They’re ripping on a Juul when you’re not looking, after you go to bed, and especially while sitting on the toilet.
Mark (not his real name), a 40-something Tennessee dad of two girls, smoked for the better part of the last two decades. If he’s being honest, he still sneaks an occasional smoke in secret, but he started Juuling when a neighbor couple (also with kids) tipped him off to the solution of covert vaping when the children are around.
Now Mark Juuls in secret, too.
“I hide them both,” he tells me by chat. “I do regular [tobacco] when they aren’t around, but just Juul when they are. Because they’re old enough where it’s too hard to hide the smell now.”
The children are in sixth and ninth grade. And as any smoker parent could tell you, it’s not that younger children don’t smell the smoke before a certain age. It’s that because they don’t know what smoking actually is, they aren’t making the connection that you smell badly because you’re smoking. It’s not until they’re more firmly situated in the public world of adults and strangers that they notice people smoking and ask about it, or connect that smell to you. The American Lung Association recommends starting a dialog about the dangers of smoking at age 5 or 6 — five years before the earliest age kids may pick up the habit, at age 11.
This means that parents who intend to shield their kids from smoking need to quit before the jig is up. Stealth vaping, however, means they don’t have to.
Mark says the girls began to notice the regular smoke smell on him earlier this year. “I always change shirts when I do it and run upstairs and shower after getting home from work,” he cautions. (As written about before, there’s no such thing as a secret smoker.) “They started asking their mom if I had been burning something in the fire pit.”
So he stopped smoking regular cigarettes when they’re around. He won’t even pull over mid-drive to stop for an outside smoke — it was transferring a lingering smell they would notice. “I’ve quit that, since now I can just Juul and drive.” The change was noticeable enough that one of his daughters told him, “My winter car smells better than my summer car.”
Once children realize their parents smoke, and understand what smoking is, it’s hard for them to understand why anyone would do it. It’s clearly a health risk, and people die slow horrible deaths doing it. It smells terrible, and renders people sickly and wheezy.
For parents who fully understand that stigma, confusion and shame — but can’t quite break the habit — it’s just easier to hide.
“I don’t want them to smell it, because they think smokers are weird, antiqued people from an-as-yet-undiscovered gray, hazy gas giant,” he says. “And I especially don’t want their dumbass dad trying to use it against us in whatever the next custody fight might be.”
It’s helped him power through work without having to step outside. He can hit the Juul when he’s in his office working late and still be able to tuck his kids into bed “without them saying I smell funny.”
It has saved him having to shower again before going to bed, too, as he had to when he puffed on leaf tobacco. “My wife would insist I do, of course, since it would stink up the sheets.”
While secret parent vapers aren’t big into advertising their stealth habit, you can track down some confessions online. On the What to Expect forum for new mothers and mothers with young kids, a woman recently posted a confessional with a clear request for reassurance: “Am I a bad mom for smoking my Juul in front of my son?”
Ok don’t judge me please. I’m a single mom so there are literally no breaks for me. I gave up smoking for my son and decided to get a juul. I hate to set a bad example but I honestly need it as my outlet. I also quit drinking entirely as being a single mom it’s not an option. I try to mainly do it at night or during his naps but I also have been finding myself using the juul when he is awake. I try to be incognito about it and walk around corners or closets but I know he has seen me do it. I don’t do it consistently nor ever near him… but still I feel SO guilty. Is this horrible? I can handle it whatever you all say.
While most of the women point out that there are negative health consequences for vaping around kids or even just the likelihood of her son growing up to mimic her behavior, some say it’s “10,000 [times] better than smoking cigarettes,” so “do what you need to do to get through the day.” Another woman steps in to admit a similar habit:
Try not to be too hard on yourself. I vape, but I only do it when my son is asleep or when he’s confined to a safe area and I can sneak away to another room for a minute so he won’t see me or inhale any of the vapor. It’s important to me that our son doesn’t see either myself or my husband smoking, because I don’t want him to associate the act of smoking with something that mommy or daddy likes to do.
I’m SURE at some point in time, he’ll catch one of us … but I think as long as the goal is to make every effort for that not to happen … you’re doing the best you can. People underestimate how difficult it is to quit smoking/vaping (I’ve read vaping is even more difficult to quit than cigarettes, because they contain more nicotine).
This is also the case with parents who vape marijuana now instead of rolling traditional joints or hitting a bong or pipe. They, too, seek out ways to eliminate smelling like weed, like this one parent whose 11-year-old has keen sense of smell. “I can only use ‘must have been a skunk outside’ so many times,” the parent wrote on Reddit.
But not all parents need to hide Juuling or vaping from their kids, especially if they’ve been smoking so long their kids are well aware of it, maybe even nagging them to quit. Some teens have posted videos about talking their parents into giving up traditional smoking for the Juul:
Sometimes it’s effective. On an Reddit thread getting dads to Juul, someone says it worked:
But other parents are far too devoted to the old ways of doing things:
Still, when successful quitters who now vape do get caught, they might take a page from Jerry Saylor’s playbook. Saylor, a podcaster in Kentucky and dad of two kids ages 7 and 9, says he doesn’t hide his vaping from his kids.
“I preach to my kids all the time the dangers of smoking and how vaping is so much better, but it’s still not a good thing either,” he told me. “But I don’t hide it, because of all the horrors they could see in every day life, me vaping is the least of their worries.”
He vapes in the car, in public or wherever he can vape. He says he does take other people into account, and their children as well. But so far, his kids don’t vape or smoke or show any interest in it. They don’t say much about his vaping either, other than, he says, “‘Dad, that smells good,’ or ‘Dad, can I guess that flavor?’”
“I have explained to them that smoking and vaping are not good for you in any way, but I have also explained that vaping, as far as we know now, is far safer than smoking cigarettes. I tell them I do it because after smoking cigarettes for a long time, this gives me a safer alternative. And when they ask me why I keep vaping after quitting smoking, I tell them it’s mainly out of habit and I like the flavors.”
But until then, covert parent vapers can keep fading into the background to steal a puff. Mark says he spends most of his Juuling away from his children. But when the girls are awake and around?
“I just step into the other room and hit it,” he says. “Because I don’t want them to know about the Juuling either.”
Or, he heads to the bathroom. “One can vape, read and shit all at once,” he adds. “The true trifecta of luxury.”
He likes mango flavor the best.