When microbiology freshman Brandon Allid pulled on a mint-flavored Juul e-cigarette for the first time, he was on his way to a music festival with his friends in Austin. Two years later, he still keeps a Juul on his body.
He said he likes the aesthetics of a Juul, seeing the vapors and tasting the different flavors, and chose mint as his favorite because it brings back fond memories of eating mint-flavored Girl Scout Cookies with his sister when he was a child.
But when it comes to the safety and health of Juuls, it’s debatable.
Lauren Longoria, health promotion and substance abuse educator, said there is a misconception that smoking a Juul is safer than cigarettes because it emits water vapors, unlike smoke from a traditional cigarette.
“The reality is, is that one Juul pod contains the same nicotine as 20 cigarettes,” Longoria said. “So one Juul pod is essentially one pack of cigarettes.”
Nicotine is also a vessel constrictor, Longoria said. Using nicotine and tobacco products can lead to cardiovascular disease, various types of cancer and has been linked to diabetes, she said.
“As young people, we tend not to see that because they haven’t hit us yet,” Longoria said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Juul’s revenue grew sevenfold from 2016 to 2017, dominating the U.S. e-cigarette market by the end of 2017.
Of all electronic cigarettes, Juul has the highest level of nicotine in its products. According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the use of e-cigarettes among young adults is now the most commonly-used tobacco product and is strongly correlated with the use of other types of tobacco products later in life.
“Do your research; know what’s going inside your body,” Longoria said.
Longoria said the reason why Juul is so popular is because it is discreet. A Juul can be smoked virtually anywhere and closely resembles a standard USB flash drive.
The origin of Juul began when former smokers James Monsees and Adam Bowen started researching an alternative to smoking. They developed a device that can deliver nearly the same amount of nicotine a cigarette has but with less chemicals. The duo co-founded JUUL Labs and breathed life into the Juul in 2015.
Forever Vapes manager Bobbi Martin said Juul was invented as a safe way of delivering nicotine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarettes expose users to fewer harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes.
However, tobacco is harmful in all forms, according to the organization’s website.
Smoke is produced when the user pulls on the mouthpiece of the Juul, she said. The battery automatically turns on to power a coil inside. The nicotine solution inside of the pod is then atomized, turning the liquid solution into a fine vapor. The vapor and smell quickly dissipates, leaving behind no trace.
“The Juul comes in two parts: the first part is the battery which provides the power to the pod, which is the second part,” Martin said. “The pod contains a nicotine-solution juice with flavor, usually fruity or tobacco-flavored.”
Martin was a smoker and said making the transition to smoking a Juul saved her life. Three years ago she smoked more than two and a half packs of cigarettes a day, Martin said, and up to that point, she had been a cigarette smoker for 16 years.
“I couldn’t walk — the circulation in my legs were terrible, it was painful for me to get anywhere. I would have to endure the pain just to go places and grocery shop,” Martin said.
Allid said his parents are heavy cigarette smokers, which discouraged him from using nicotine products for most of his life. After his friends exposed him to a Juul, however, Allid started smoking. He said he doesn’t like the hint of tobacco in it but pushed past it.
Allid said he likes the convenience of smoking a Juul because he doesn’t have to go outside to smoke it, as opposed to a cigarette.
“I’ve been told, especially by my parents, ‘Why do you vape? Why do you smoke Juuls?,’” Allid said. “I just tell them I would rather smoke this than smoke a cigarette.”
Smoking a Juul is detrimental to one’s health, especially affecting brain development in college-age students whose brains aren’t fully developed until age 25, Longoria said.
Nicotine affects the frontal lobe of the brain, responsible for impulse control and decision-making. Every time someone smokes a Juul, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released in the brain.
The chemical regulates many things in the body, one of which is pleasure. Prolonged use of nicotine can lead to an addiction, Longoria said.
When Juuls were first released, they were marketed towards adults as a way to substitute cigarettes, but now they seem to have targeted younger adults, she said.
“Cigarettes aren’t traditionally flavored,” Longoria said. “So, who likes flavored things? Typically younger kids, younger populations.”
Longoria said it is possible for students to overcome a nicotine addiction by visiting the many resources on campus, such as the Health Center. She said students can reach out to the center’s Health Promotion and Substance Abuse office.
“We’re all just people trying to live towards healthier lives and healthier Mavericks,” Longoria said.