America doesn't care about kids. The evidence is all around us.
Mint. That's how the teens are already a step ahead of you on this whole vape thing, Washington Wonderminds.
Vaping can be deadly, we're learning, with a sixth death linked to the habit announced this week.
So the Trump administration announced that they want to put the kibosh on the wicked marketing scheme to snare a whole generation into addiction by hooking kids on e-cigarettes with flavors like cotton candy, sour double rainbow or blue raspberry razzle dazzle.
That little trend — where some of the packages of vape juice perfectly mimic popular candy — made high school bathrooms everywhere smell like the Willy Wonka factory. For a short time, that's been an easy tell for teachers.
But kids already figured out how to snow a teacher suspicious of a strawberry shortcake smelling locker room.
"Brah. Just do the mint. They'll just think you're chewing gum," is the current advice among the cracking voice population.
The Joe Camel 2.0 effort is a powerful one, and any move by leaders to quash it should be applauded. It was back in 1997, if you're old enough to recall, that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. paid out $10 million to consumers after it was made pretty clear in court that their cartoon Joe Camel campaign was all about growing a new generation of smokers.
Then came the relentless, pummeling mix of lawsuits, government oversight and regulation, taxation and public health campaigns. It was one of the public health triumphs of our time.
In the 1970s and 1980s, between 20 to 30% of high schoolers were regular cigarette smokers. (Anyone remember the smoking area at their high school? Ours was by the metal shop.) By 2018? A mere 7.6% of high schoolers puffed a real tobacco cigarette, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
So a lot of us Gen-X parents thought we dodged a bullet on this one. Our kids HATE smoking. I'll never forget my sons' reactions when we went to the Prague years ago for a family wedding, and they acted like a guy was eating a shoe off his plate when they saw a dignified, older man light up a cigarette at the table next to us in a bistro.
"Ewww! Mom! He's smoking!!!" the kids gasped.
Then e-cigarettes showed up, and the kids seemed equally horrified by the Jimmy Buffet dude at a Chesapeake Bay restaurant sucking on an ornate vaping wand that looked like a metal, wizards wand. (Though I am totally onboard with this as an alternative for any adult currently addicted to tobacco smoking. It's definitely the lesser of two evils, and I say that as someone married to a former smoker who has been chewing nicotine gum for almost two decades).
When it came to hating all smoking, most American kids heard the antismoking message loud and clear. Statistics showed that kids experimented with e-cigarettes for a couple years. Dabbling in high school seemed to peak in 2015, when about 16% of high schoolers said they were vapers.
The numbers dropped almost 30% by the next year. And it looked like this generation might ditch e-cigs as quickly as they left Maroon 5 or Facebook or Silly Banz.
Then something weird happened: Vaping made a huge comeback, jumping by nearly 78% in the next two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For middle schoolers, the jump was 48%. Yes, middle schoolers — sixth, seventh and eight-graders. What happened?
JUUL happened. It's a brand of sleek and discreet e-cigarettes that looks sort of like a long USB flashdrive and exactly like the iPhone charger I carry on my own key ring. (Yes, my kids freaked when they first saw it.) A single pod of watermelon, mango, strawberry lemonade and yes, mint juice that goes into a JUUL has as much nicotine as an entire pack of those old skool Camels.
I took my tween to a concert last month at the state fair in Minnesota, and we were possibly the only two people in the crowd near the stage who weren't JUULing. It is everywhere. The CDC estimates about 4 million kids are regularly doing it. It's so low-key, they do it in class and don't get caught.
"Teens were 'hitting the JUUL' at home and at school, right under the noses of parents and guardians, teachers, and coaches," said parent Meredith Berkman, who never noticed any weird smells in her son Caleb's room the whole time he was JUULing.
"They were 'ripping the JUUL' in school bathrooms — now called the 'JUUL room'— in locker rooms, even in classrooms in front of unsuspecting teachers," she told members of Congress at a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in July. She is the founder of the year-old advocacy group PAVe, Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes.
"How was it possible that there had been a teen cultural revolution, and most adults hadn't even noticed?" she asked them.
Because this one is so easy to miss. Unlike the acrid smell of pot, Camels or cloves, this one is super stealth. Most kids I talk to parrot the e-cigarette manufacturer's message that vaping is not harmful, that e-cigarettes aren't as bad as anything we did in our youth. Wrong, wrong and wrong.
The congressional testimony included the written statement of Kristin Beuparlant, whose hockey-captain son, Cade, wrecked his lungs with his stealth habit and frightened his family with his addict behavior.
Even though the Massachusetts teen always denied it when she asked, Beauparlant learned her son had been JUULling a pod a day for three years when he finally got caught doing it at school. That's a pack-a-day habit.
Please trust me, parents. Raid your kids' rooms, pockets and bags. Talk to them. Tell them how much damage nicotine does to their young, developing brains. Smell them. If their room smells like anything other than dirty socks or deodorant, wonder. If the room smells like any food (there are even maple French toast, cinnamon roll and cucumber flavors) and they haven't been cooking, worry. And if they suddenly smell a lot like mint, now you know why.
OK, Washington, that's one step. Now, we've got about 38,000 deaths every year by gunfire. Ready to talk about that, too?