Clearing the air: Confessions of a former Juul addict

The Juul through the eyes of a college student

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Flickr Creative Commons: Vaping360

By Maxwell Zeff, Collegian Columnist

The following passage is a personal journal entry I wrote at the beginning of the academic year in regard to my relationship with the electronic cigarette device called a Juul.

I write to you while sucking from a nicotine-filled flash drive that consumes my life. A device ingeniously invented by two Stanford graduates to infect the youth of America with the plague of addiction, all at the low price of $20 a pack. When friends first told me about it, they had a hard time explaining its appeal. The feeling was described as, “it just makes you feel great.” But when I inquired further about how, descriptions were muddled and lacked specifics. I knew weed produced feelings of happiness and relaxation, and alcohol evoked confidence and pleasant incoordination. These drugs helped people escape from the world, and even helped them intensify the great joys of their lives – friends, love, food and laughter. I assumed that Juuling provided a relaxed, pleasant feeling, but supposed other experienced Juul-users merely could not describe it well.

I now realize the feeling others were unable to describe was a brief pause from the world of addiction, a world many were blind from realizing they were a part of. I don’t blame them. They had sucked themselves into a world they weren’t ready for. When someone finally described a “head-rush” to me, a feeling of brief, intense brain stimulation caused by the Juul that is felt throughout the whole body, where one is incapable of thinking of much else besides the fierce, euphoric feeling itself,  I decided to try it. After several hits broken up by small coughs, I felt the potent buzz known as a head-rush, and was told the feeling gets more intense the more vapor you take in. Fifteen seconds later, the feelings were gone, and my Juul dropped me back into a bleaker world.

This was roughly six months ago, when I was still in high school. I don’t get head-rushes anymore, I get mere glimmers of escape from the world of withdrawal. My socially-acceptable addiction is one of thousands of others just like it here at the University of Massachusetts, and others invite themselves into the same cruel world that I exist in with the innocent question, “Can I hit your Juul?” Nicotine is back in America, but this time it’s a party mode, mango flavored addiction.

On Sept. 18, about a week after I wrote this journal entry, I hit the Juul for the last time in my life. I was tired of being controlled by something so destructive and I decided to not buy another pack of Juul pods once I ran out. The following week, I experienced many symptoms of withdrawal, even resulting in having to skip a class because I was experiencing such intense cravings that I could barely focus on anything but the cravings themselves. I never imagined I would be experiencing nicotine withdrawal at any point in my life, but especially not at the young age of 18.

After the first week, physical symptoms such as shortness of breath and low energy levels subsided, but mental cravings persisted. The thing about my generation’s version of nicotine addiction which makes it so hard to fend off is that if I had been addicted to smoking cigarettes, I would’ve been ostracized by even my closest peers. Every time I would’ve taken out a cigarette, I would have been met with vocal and implicit ridicule by everyone around me. But Juuling has become an accepted practice that is almost impossible to escape in college. It happens at the parties, on the sidewalks, in dorm rooms and everywhere you can think of.

I would like to note that my situation is anything but a unique one. CNBC reported that this year, 20 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes. That means roughly three million kids are now using these products regularly, a number that has nearly doubled since just last year.

Since I’ve stopped Juuling, I’ve gained some clarity on the subject. There are numerous reasons why Juul has reached such great popularity with the youth of America. Some could say that it is due to its high nicotine concentration, more than double the concentration of competitive e-cigarettes, and use of nicotine salts as opposed to free-base nicotine, allowing the vapor to go down smoothly but pack a heavier nicotine punch. Others argue that the sleek design makes the Juul feel like just another piece of technology as opposed to a classic e-cigarette.

Personally, I believe that it’s a combination of all of these factors that makes the Juul a discreet and modern way of smoking, creating a seamless experience that delivers not only nicotine, but a culture to go with it. The thing most people fail to realize is that the Juul is not just another electronic cigarette, but a revolutionary device that has pervaded its way into mainstream pop culture and has completely changed the nicotine market in America. The smartest kids in class Juul. Top student-athletes Juul. Celebrities Juul. It is a rare instance when I find a person my age who has never, at the very least, tried one of these devices.

One of Juul’s main marketing techniques is advertising a clean and modern lifestyle to go along with their product, similar to advertising techniques of Apple, a phenomenon that has caused people to call Juul the iPhone of e-cigs. When you buy a Juul, you’re not just buying the product, you’re buying yourself into a new world – a new community – that makes quitting all the more difficult, because now you are sociologically inclined to keep sucking that flash drive.

I fear for what is to come. The Juul may have been created to wean adult smokers off of cigarettes, but it has introduced far more young people to the world of nicotine than it could have possibly helped. The full extent of health implications around the Juul are still unknown, but it is undeniable that using a Juul is bad for your health, your mental state and your wallet. The culture, advertising and attitudes toward the Juul are uncomfortably similar to those surrounding cigarettes in the 1950s. I fear that we may be just scratching the surface of something that will torment my generation with health problems for the rest of our lives. The FDA is now considering regulations on electronic cigarettes, such as making them harder to get and limiting the number of retailers of these products. While this is progress in the right direction, I have seen my peers go to great lengths already to fulfill their addictions, and I believe more must be done to stop them from themselves.

Maxwell Zeff is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]