JUUL and the Digital Smoker
At every party, on every walk to class, it’s impossible not to notice a new trend that has swept across campus. At Skidmore and around the United States, e-cigarette use is on the rise. According to the Food and Drug Administration, in 2016 over two million middle and high school students regularly used e-cigarettes, and that number is steadily rising, with use increasing from 1.5% to 16.0% from 2011-2015. As the strength of the nicotine available in these e-cigarettes grows, so too does their popularity. Many people see these "vapes," such as the JUUL, as a healthier alternative to cigarettes and a means to quitting altogether. However, their ease of use and their strength has begun to attract a new wave of non-smokers who see them as an attractive way to get a buzz.
According to commissioner of food and drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., “The FDA is concerned about the safety of these products and how they are marketed to the public.” Because e-cigarettes have only been on the market for a short time, the FDA has no way of knowing their long-term effects. As with many other new health trends, the FDA is behind the curve. Yet, very little regulation exists beyond prohibiting their sale to minors. According to their website, by 2018, the Federal Agency plans to require all “nicotine delivery devices” to bear this warning statement: "WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical."
“They must be healthier than cigarettes,” says Dr. Udayan Shah, Division Chief of Otolaryngology at Dupont Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware who sat down for an interview last week. Although he acknowledges the health risks of breathing anything other than oxygen into one’s lungs, his main concern is the addictive nature of vaping nicotine.
The JUUL, which hit the market in the late 2000’s, has gained immense popularity among a new generation who’ve rejected cigarettes in favor of a cleaner and tastier way to get their nicotine fix. With flavors such as crème brûlée, mango and fruit punch, it is easy to see why young consumers have rushed to buy them. Further, the JUUL offers some of the highest percentages of nicotine on the market, with some flavors containing over 50% of the addictive substance.
“It’s convenient,” says one student who preferred to be identified only by his first initial. Like many new JUUL users, he is attracted to its ease of access. Although he had used cigarettes in the past, he was by no means a regular smoker. Now, however, he uses the JUUL constantly outdoors and indoors, without the fear of setting off a smoke alarm or giving his room an unpleasant smell. He believes that with the JUUL, he’s not breathing in the carcinogens found in conventional cigarettes. He claims he feels cleaner after smoking with the JUUL and doesn’t smell afterwards. He was enticed by the JUUL’s sleek, black, compact metal box design, that, while easily lost, is appealing to the eye. Mainly, he was attracted to the JUUL’s nicotine strength and the harsh sensation of the potentially harmful vapor. He did observe that as a result of “JUULing” he has noticed a decline in his athletic ability, finding himself winded and coughing more often.
JUUL users like this student, with their iPhones in one hand and their JUUL’s in the other, have come to represent a new age of digital smokers. They are emboldened by the lack of data about the health effects of vaping and have come to the baseless conclusion that e-cigarettes are safe. Until further studies have been done, there is no way of knowing exactly how these devices will affect their users. Healthy or not, these vapes are here to stay, and their popularity and marketability will only grow.