It's hard to enter a party on campus without seeing little blue dots of light, Juuls glowing as users take hits from the device. There are echoes of “Hey, can I take a hit?” as the Juul is passed from person to person. These slim and small contraptions resemble USB sticks more than e–cigarettes. They're discrete enough to fit in a sweatshirt sleeve, sleek enough to grab the group’s attention, and use nicotine–filled cartridges called Juul Pods. The Juul became a popular smoking option in 2015 and was marketed as a smoking cessation device—it would deliver the nicotine that cigarette addicts required without the harsh chemicals in cigarettes.
There's a lot of talk on campus about Juuls. Who's doing it, what it does to your body, where you can purchase Juul pods. “I’ve heard it referred to as the iPhone of e–cigarettes,” says Ellie Wynn (C ’20).
It's incredibly easy to buy a Juul. Customers can go onto their website, verify that they're 21. For about $50, a brand new Juul will be shipped to their door. In this age of internet purchases and millennials becoming increasingly digital, the Juul brand is no exception. Similarly to how cigarette companies used flavored cigars and cigarettes to entice young people to smoke, Juul pods also have flavors such as crème brûlée and mango which mask the nicotine and create a milder form of smoking. Dr. Frank Leone of Penn Medicine states that the different flavors actually have different effects due to the flavor particles that are released when smoked. Creamier flavors, like crème brûlée, are much worse for your health than the fruitier ones.
There has even been a change in the language regarding smoking on campuses. When taking a hit of the Juul, you aren’t smoking or vaping—you're "Juuling." This language changes the perception around the devices because many do not consider using a Juul to be vaping or smoking, but an entirely new classification of getting nicotine. It dissociates the consequences from the action. There are scores of people who actively speak against vaping, but that is exactly what a Juul is: a brand of vape. In fact, some people who use the Juul are unaware that a Juul is an e–cigarette at all.
These devices have gained popularity with non–smokers, and more specifically with high school and college students. One of the main benefits of the Juul is that there is little to no smell and smoke, therefore it makes it a lot easier to smoke discreetly. This allows users to stay with their friends instead of isolating themselves outside like they’d have to with traditional cigarettes, as they're not allowed indoors in Philadelphia. For most people, Juuls are a communal experience. This has contributed in part to their spread; many buy them after trying someone else’s. Most students might try it at a party or another casual setting, but for some this social smoking begins to infiltrate daily life. “It didn’t always used to be that way,” says Ellie about her habits. She says that she now uses her Juul every day, but is looking to cut back on her usage.
Ellie’s Juul is customized with her name and some designs on it, evidence of just how much the e–cigarette has transformed into an accessory. There are skins and other customizable options for the Juul so that each individual can make it his or her own. Just google “Juul customization ideas” and hundreds of different options pop up, including video tutorials, showing just how mainstream this e-cigarette has become. The Juul brand has built an image empire: it has made something potentially fatal appear chic and sexy.
People use Juuls is to get their dose of nicotine. The nicotine creates a head rush that, when paired with alcohol, can enhance a drunk or disoriented feeling. It makes sense that they’re so popular. But there’s a catch: nicotine is widely known to have extremely addictive properties. This isn’t new information—it has been known for over 30 years. But many students ignore the information and continue to use the Juul. Though the validity of the rumors has been contested, one thing is still for sure: Juuls, and all forms of nicotine, are detrimental to your health, and actively advised against. So why do we still use them?
Irma T. Elo, a professor in the Sociology department who studies health inequalities, states that many college students believe that they will only smoke during their college years and will easily be able to quit. Studies show that about 80% of daily adult smokers started smoking before age 21—during their undergraduate years.
“E–cigarettes are relatively new and that is problematic in the sense that e–cigarettes and [electronic] vaporizers can lead to increased cigarette smoking later on… it may be the first step,” Elo explains.
“We kind of put nicotine on par with caffeine in terms of its ability to create a dependence tendency, but in fact it’s actually more powerful than heroin in creating dependency,” says Dr. Leone. There's a study that showed that 25% of tobacco users become dependent on cigarettes after just a single pack. Nicotine addiction isn’t a phase; this reliance has been consistently continue into life after college.
There are many misconceptions about the safety of Juuls and e–cigarettes. While there is evidence to show that they are safer than traditional cigarettes, due to a reduced exposure to tar and other cancer causing carcinogens, it is extremely hard to call them safe. Experts do not know the long term effects of e–cigarette use, but in the short term, they make it much more likely to make the transition to regular cigarettes. Despite the lack of long–term knowledge, people, even many of the users, understand that it cannot be positive. “It can’t be healthy,” says Ellie.
Although there isn’t yet much scientific information on the long—term effects of Juuls, or even e–cigarettes, there are some immediate effects that can be observed. Juul pods contain propylene glycol, one of the chemicals found in antifreeze. Though it is unknown the exact effects of inhaling this substance, it is known that putting antifreeze into your body is very harmful. In fact, in 2014 . There is a lack of understanding among users as to what the Juul is, and what it contains, which leads users to make uninformed decisions about their actions.
Even beyond the negative health effects of the Juul itself, the fact that it is being passed around from person to person makes the spread of illnesses so much easier. This year has been regarded one of the worst flu epidemics on record, a pandemic that can be exacerbated by Juul sharing among other things. It follows the same logic as not drinking out of the same handle for fear of mono.
For those who need support in stopping their cigarette or e–cigarette usage, including the Juul, Student Health Services has smoking cessation resources on campus through their program. This includes one–on–one counseling or group sessions, in order to become tobacco–free and achieve a variety of goals including managing and identifying triggers, and quitting smoking.
For people thinking about starting to Juul, Ellie firmly says “don’t.”
“I really think the trend or fad even is not going to last that much longer anyway,” she qualifies. Only time will tell.