Whether you were aware of it or not, if you’ve walked the campus of Virginia Tech, you've probably seen a JUUL at one time or another. Maybe someone pulled it out at a frat party or in the rush between classes on the Drillfield. Or maybe you saw someone drawing smoke from a small black box in the bathroom and thought, “What is that thing? It looks like a USB and smells like an air freshener, but it’s way too small to be a vape.”
Welcome to JUUL, a revolutionized nicotine-based vapor alternative to cigarettes. Created in 2015 by two Stanford design program graduates and former smokers, JUULs are the future, and the solution to “making smoking obsolete,” as its founders argue. In just two years, JUUL has sold over one million devices and become the number two product in the market — and they’re everywhere.
JUULs are undoubtedly a real party favorite. Perhaps a bit more adult than the candy-filled pinatas we fought over as kids, but nevertheless, when it comes to social settings, students here and across the country love to share their JUULs. With popular new flavors such as fruit medley and creme brulee, it’s hard to even imagine that JUUL’s target audience is strictly adults.
It seems JUUL founders are catching on to the rising popularity of their product among teens, as evidenced by a recent change in their online ordering minimum age policy from 18 to 21. Young nicotine fiends everywhere are dying to bum some hits off their friends, or begging their older brother or sister to buy them a JUUL.
So how does it work? The JUUL functions relatively effortlessly. The length measures slightly bigger than the average thumb and is shockingly light to touch. To activate the device, users insert a pod of a flavor of their choosing, inhale from the head of the pod until a small light flashes and then exhale a puff of smoke. Many regard JUUL as “the Apple of vaping” due to its new-age engineering and level of convenience for users. You can simply whip out a JUUL from your back pocket, inhale and get an immediate buzz.
So … is JUUL a vape? Not exactly. JUULs have a much higher nicotine content than your average vape, and they’re much easier to get away with. Along with their relative obscurity among the public, JUULs and the clouds of smoke that users inhale from them are much smaller and less obvious than that of a vape. This perhaps helps to reduce the stigmatic guilt of nicotine use that many smokers feel when holding a cigarette in public. It’s likely that anyone who would judge a JUULer isn’t even aware of what it is.
But when did smoking cigarettes stop being cool anyway? What happened to the iconic and rebellious image of James Dean clutching a cigarette between the lips? Or Uma Thurman’s character blowing smoke seductively on the cover of “Pulp Fiction?” Alcohol and marijuana are still a favorite among teenagers, but cigarettes are now retro and old school. Maybe the JUUL is an adaptation of nicotine use we are finally satisfied with.
In any case, nicotine use is a serious health risk. Founders of JUUL argue that their device has a relatively healthier appeal than the age-old cigarette, as users don’t ingest the harmful toxins that come with lighting a material on fire.
But there’s a difference between “healthier” and healthy. Engineered to be much more convenient than a cigarette, JUULs are arguably more addictive as one pod is the equivalent of 20 cigarettes (or a typical pack of smokes), while JUUL users skip the visualization and process of blowing through a pack. Convenience may come at a cost when you have a harmful chemical like nicotine at your quick disposal.
But the most disturbing thought of JUUL use is the unknown side effects. Due to the JUUL’s relative youth, there is lack of research as to the long-term consequences. What does this mean? We have no idea how bad JUULs may be for our bodies. Will we wake up in ten years with green skin? Will our children be born with three ears or no eyebrows? Who knows.
It may seem ridiculous, but let’s not forget doctors actually prescribed cigarettes in the 1930s to the 1950s as a remedy for a bad cough, and advertisements assured women that smoking would make them “slim and beautiful.” And I mean, if yellowed teeth and wrinkly skin is your definition of beautiful, go crazy.
Our best guess is that JUUL is a step in the right direction. JUUL founders are achieving their goal of eliminating cigarettes much more effectively than nicotine patches or other cigarette alternatives have. And as for the effects of JUUL, we’ll have to wait and see.
Hopefully its reduced nicotine content and limited toxins allow it to remain a stable substitute to Marlboros. Either way, JUULs definitely seem to be here to stay. So unless doctors can figure out how to convince teenagers to stop what they’re doing, which may be impossible, we’ll continue our lives between the clouds. For now, keep cigarettes out of the status quo, and keep on JUULing.