Its presence on campus is almost a novelty. A group of guys at a party repeatedly brings a thin block of metal to their lips. Someone walking past you leaves a thick trail of vapor in the air. The girl who sits in front of you in class constantly has what looks like a USB drive stuck into the side of her laptop.
A Juul can be perceived to be as harmless as the flash drive it mimics, but the spread of its use could be causing widespread damage to those who use it.
Juul, a vaporized nicotine device, is popular among ASU students. The compact device has a 5 percent nicotine concentration level, providing a quick head rush as nicotine rapidly enters the bloodstream.
Juul labs claim their product is "for adult smokers seeking a satisfying alternative to cigarettes." However, the Juul has swept over ASU, and it is not likely that the product’s popularity is due to those using it as a replacement for cigarettes.
“There are two kinds of people who can use vapor products,” says Dr. Robert K. Jackler, Stanford professor of Otorhinolaryngology. “There’s the committed smoker of regular combustible tobacco, and someone who’s just experimenting for the first time, but doing it with vapor.”
The product is relatively new, and surrounded by conflicting news reports.
As an ASU faculty associate in the social work program, Joseph DePinto has spent many years studying addictions. While he commends smoking vaporized nicotine products as a replacement to tobacco use, in his opinion DePinto finds using them to fit into a social wave is problematic.
“People are smoking nicotine devices as part of a gathering, as a way to fit in. But then, they end up addicted,” DePinto says.
Freshman public policy major Kyle Slaughter began juuling a year ago when his friends started doing it, although he does not feel dependent on it. Slaughter said he only hits his device “when (he’s) bored or hanging out with people.”
While Slaughter does not experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms from prolonged use, he admits, “if I hit it too much, I kind of get nauseous.”
As a relatively new phenomenon, there is not enough longitudinal data to decide the true effects that vaporized tobacco has on the body.
“If you start smoking cigarettes at 18 or 19, it's 20 or 30 years before your lungs start to deteriorate,” Jackler says. “Vapor products have only been around for a relatively short amount of time, so we don’t know the effects of breathing in and out the mist.”
Regardless, activities like juuling have become social fads that a non-smoker can easily pick up on.
Inhaling vapor products throughout the day is problematic, and Jackler says, the flavoring often used in e-cigarettes is “meant for your stomach and GI track, so we don’t know that they’re necessarily safe for your lungs.”
But the biggest problem that arises from e-cigarette devices is the nicotine they contain, and often in high concentrations. Juul says each pod contains the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. This highly concentrated nicotine rapidly enters the bloodstream, creating a desirable light-headed feeling.
“For a few minutes of head rush here and there, you’re committing yourself to an addiction,” Jackler says.
As more and more young people start using nicotine products, they may find themselves caught in confining addictions.
“The way the chemistry of the nicotine is adjusted makes it so addictive, making it a gateway of being a prisoner to nicotine,” Jackler says.
Nicotine is known to be an addictive agent, so the popularity of Juuls is not likely to go away in the near future. According to an article in Business Insider from Nov. 2017, Juul has a 32 percent market share of all e-cigarette categories, zooming from almost nothing to the industry leader in a very short time. This means a lot of users, including college students, are using the product.
With their extreme success, especially within the college market, Jackler questions Juul's integrity.
"Juul has not clearly designed their product to be for adult smokers," Jackler says. "The typical playbook of big tobacco is 'once they get started and keep doing it for a couple weeks, then we got them and they’re going to keep using our products.'"
Despite surrounding concerns, Juul Labs says they "strongly oppose and actively discourage" minors from using their product, according to a statement. They have even raised the purchasing age to 21 on their website to combat underage usage of their product.
ASU graduate student Will Cohen specializes in harm reduction and addiction research and has even created "The Vape a Vet Project," a charity that helps veterans quit smoking cigarettes by replacing them with e-cigarette devices.
Cohen says the devices are worth their risk because of "their impact on life, health and (the) cost of smoking is extraordinary."
For this reason, vaporized nicotine devices are more than likely here to stay.
"E-cigarettes are a disruptive technology that has changed a piece of society; it will never go away," Cohen says. "I hope we move away from the hobbyist aspect of them and closer to their harm reduction purpose. It doesn’t need to be cool."
While Juul only provides one level of nicotine concentration in their devices, some e-cigarettes allow for adjustment. Jackler recommends slowly lowering the nicotine concentration on a device to eventually ween off of nicotine completely.
Although nicotine addictions can be difficult to overcome, they are not completely permanent.
"There are resources to help people," DePinto says. "Alcohol and nicotine are legal, but they are drugs. There’s help available if you want it."
If you're struggling to quit using a Juul, both ASU Health Services and ASU Counseling have services to help students quit tobacco use.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on @nicolemludden Twitter.
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