THURSDAY, July 5, 2018 -- Parents, if you want to find out whether your teenagers are "juuling" in school, you might consider checking their Twitter accounts.
That's what California researchers did, and after sifting through more than 80,000 tweets, they found almost 1 in 25 detailed using the tiny e-cigarette device during class hours.
"We saw posts about using Juul or seeing someone else use Juul in elementary, middle or high school. Posts talked about using Juul in a school bathroom or at recess, and even in gym class," said lead study author Jon-Patrick Allem. He's a research scientist at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
He said that some posts even included videos, such as kids "juuling" while in a classroom.
Kids didn't always get away with using Juul in class. Allem said that some posts talked about losing a Juul in class or having it confiscated.
Juul is an e-cigarette device that's not much bigger than a pack of gum. It contains a USB port for charging, making it easy for educators or parents to mistake the device for a USB thumb drive.
According to the device's website, Juul was designed to be an alternative to help adult smokers quit smoking. Users snap in a pod that contains a liquid nicotine and flavor. Some of the options include classic tobacco, mint and fruit flavors.
In 2017, Juul had approximately one-third of the e-cigarette market share, despite being just one of many such products available, the researchers said. And the company had year-over-year growth of 700 percent, the researchers added.
In a statement, the company said, "Juul is intended for adult smokers only. No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try Juul."
The most common tweets (20 percent) about Juul included mentioning the device and tagging (or naming) another person in the tweet. About 15 percent of the tweets talked about the pods containing the nicotine liquid and flavoring.
"Nicotine use of any kind is known to be harmful to adolescent brains, so parents and educators need to be aware of Juul," Allem said.
He added that the study may underestimate the magnitude of the problem because researchers were only able to access public accounts. Children and teens may have their accounts set to private to keep their messages from being seen by the public (and possibly, their parents).
Juul officials noted that the lack of information from private accounts may also have underestimated the number of people talking about using the device to quit smoking.
"Research shows adult smokers often do not talk about their cigarette use publicly because of the social stigma associated with smoking," the company statement said.
The company also pointed out that the researchers couldn't accurately assess the ages of those posting because Twitter doesn't make demographic information public.
Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y., said that monitoring and studying social media posts may be a useful way to learn about the popularity of some products.
"My experience with pediatricians, parents, teachers, as well as school administrators, social workers and guidance counselors, is that scores of teens were using these products long before adults knew anything about them," said Folan, who wasn't involved with the study.
"The Juul contains nicotine, which impacts the development of the adolescent brain and can lead to years of addiction," she explained.
Folan said awareness of the potential for addiction from using these products is becoming more apparent now, not only to adults but also to students who may only realize they've become addicted when they try to stop using these products and experience withdrawal symptoms.
"By monitoring social media, tobacco control experts and researchers may be able to better inform parents, health care providers and educators about the prevalence, as well as the hazards, of these newly emerging tobacco products," Folan said.
The study was published June 26 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Learn more about kids and e-cigarettes from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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