Smoking has been on the decline in the United States for many decades. But now Juuling — a trendy form of nicotine delivery sweeping through high school and college campuses — is breathing new life into the tobacco industry.
Juuls are small, sleek-looking electronic vaporizers that use patented juice cartridges, or “pods,” to deliver nicotine. According to the company website, one Juul pod lasts for 200 puffs and contains as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. The pods come in a variety of flavors, including mango, mint, cucumber, fruit medley and creme brulee. Since their release in 2015, Juuls have rapidly spread across the United States and now account for 54 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market share, according to data from Wells Fargo.
Yale is committed to making campus tobacco free, as per the University’s 2015 Tobacco-Free Yale initiative, which placed heavy restrictions on where on campus people can smoke tobacco products, including Juuls. Still, Juuling has become popular at Yale, as many students see the Juul as a safer alternative to cigarettes.
A member of the class of 2020, who identifies as someone who Juuls frequently and who requested anonymity so that she could speak honestly about her e-cigarette use, said she is not worried about the short- or long-term risks of vaping.
“It’s widely known that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes,” she said. “It’s just something I do socially, and I probably won’t do it ever again after I graduate, so I think I’ll be fine.”
The sophomore also mentioned that Juuling must not be a serious issue because so many people in high school and college are doing it.
“People rip their Juuls in lectures,” she continued. “I’ve seen so many people in discussion sections charging their Juuls in their computers and not seeming to care if the teaching assistant notices. [Juuling] has become a very normal, unstigmatized thing to do that is relatively safe.”
Nick Cutler ’21 said that during his junior year of high school, he “had no idea what a Juul was,” but that by the start of his senior year “it seemed like there were more people who Juul’ed than those who didn’t.”
Krysten Bold, an associate research scientist for the Yale Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science, said that the appeal of Juuling among high schoolers might be creating “a new generation of tobacco users.”
“A lot of our data is showing that some of the kids who are using e-cigarettes report that it’s the first nicotine product that they’ve tried.” Bold said.
Bold’s work is focused on surveying middle school and high school students in Connecticut on their knowledge and use of tobacco products. She said that while the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are not yet known, the high concentration of nicotine delivered by Juuls and similar devices is especially harmful to adolescents and will likely lead some Juul users to smoke cigarettes later in life.
Due to the device’s inconspicuous design, its small quantity of smoke production and the vapor’s fruity scent, middle schools and high schools across the country have struggled to regulate use of the device on campus. And many parents of high school students, even when they see their children with Juuls, do not know what they are or what they do.
In a statement, JUUL Labs said that its mission is “to eliminate cigarette smoking by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to cigarettes.”
“JUUL is not intended for anyone else,” the statement said. “We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors. No minor should be in possession of a JUUL product.”
Still, among high schoolers coming to Yale, Cutler said, there seems to be a disconnect between their understanding that smoking is bad and that Juuling is dangerous.
“Growing up kids are always told ‘Don’t smoke cigarettes’, and it seems like our generation is almost repulsed by them,” he said. “But Juuls don’t have that same bad image. I’ll hear someone talk about how smoking is ‘so gross’ and then they’ll whip out their Juul a minute later. People think Juuls are pretty cool.”
Bold noted that because there is not yet any data on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes or the chemicals inside, people assume that e-cigarettes must be relatively safe.
Cutler said that people Juul more in their rooms than at fraternities or other social spaces because they don’t want to have to share with others.
“If someone has a Juul at a party, I guarantee at least five different people will ask to rip it a few times,” he said. “It’s absurd how many people will swarm around a Juul.”
Formerly owned by PAX Labs, Juul spun out into an independent company, JUUL Labs, Inc. in 2017.
Caroline Moore | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, April 13: This article has been updated to include a statement from JUUL Labs.