This weekend I came across this article New Yorker article about Juul.
This lead me to read this Vox article about Juul which started a decent down a Juul rabbit hole, a phenomenon I find interesting but by no means surprising. I’m not sure how I came across the articles about Juul. Was it initially some sort of targeted marketing? Who knows? If so, well played google or facebook or wherever I was browsing.
What is Juul? A small, e-cigarette with disposable pods containing an flavoured e-liquid with about 5% nicotine salts. The salt is what makes it special as it helps the nicotine be absorbed more easily. Back when I was still vaping, Juul was in its infancy and I longingly wanted to try nicotine salts as vaping no longer provided any buzz. The only reason I was vaping was the relieve withdrawal. Instead, I quit which was probably the better option.
The TL:DR of the articles is that teens are getting addicted to Juul and everyone is freaking out. Some call it “A public health nightmare”, which I find to be overly alarmist. Again, if we didn’t just scare monger on smoking and actually taught kids more of the why it might not be a good idea to expose your developing brain to potent neuro-stimulants that can alter how your brain works maybe less kids would be taking up the Juul. In some ways, it kind of reminds me of what it might have been like to start smoking in earlier days when cigarettes weren’t labelled as addictive. People who took up smoking, typically became daily smokers. I’m not sure how much I buy this, but some of the surveys claim that many kids don’t even know that they contain nicotine. That surprised me. Regardless, teens report that most people that start juuling, become regular juulers. Is this surprising? No. Is the fear mongering about this phenomenon warranted? I’m not sure.
I think kids need to be properly informed about the risks of using Juul because based on the stuff that is floating around, I could be easy to be misled. I posted this video on the called the “Truth about Vaping: The Nicotine Misconception” awhile back, I think perhaps even before I started vaping. It claims nicotine isn’t the bad guy and that it is all the additives in cigarettes in combination with the nicotine that causes addiction, not nicotine alone and that nicotine isn’t that harmful. Part of this is true. Nicotine doesn’t cause cancer and while toxic, beyond that it is not the worse part of tobacco inhaled into the lungs while smoking. While nicotine delivered through patches and gum might not be addictive, nicotine is still addictive. I didn’t imagine my addiction and the withdrawal was very real. I was also only vaping 3% liquid at the end. But I needed it… first thing I’d do in the morning is vape until I didn’t feel anxious and shitty anymore. Juul uses a nicotine salt which is more easily absorbed. It spikes nicotine levels in much the same way cigarette smoking does. Which means it is probably addictive in the same way cigarettes are. They say each pod is the equivalent to 200 puffs (or a pack of cigarettes). Interestingly, most of the regular users use about one pod a day.
Is it a public health nightmare? I’m not sure. If we, as a society, don’t want people to be addicted to drugs, then yes, start the moral panic it is a nightmare. Being addicted to nicotine kind of sucks if you can’t get your fix but isn’t the worse addiction someone can have. Since our society favours prohibition, we are moving toward regulating vaping in the same way that cigarettes are regulated, at least in Canada we are. But as far as science can tell us right now, it is less bad for teens to be juuling than picking up a pack-a-day smoking habit. What people are arguing is that many of these people that are juuling would have never smoked. This is likely true. But to me it is a false equivalent. We know smoking kills. We know what juuling likely leads to a pretty strong nicotine addiction is some but not all people, just like cigarettes. I think the biggest concern is the effect on the brain development of teenagers and perhaps that is where the hyperbole in these articles come from, despite the fact that brain development is only briefly mentioned in most of the news articles that I read.
Based on some of the research in this field, the effect of nicotine on the developing brain, is the greatest cause for concern with teen users. To quote this study:
The prefrontal cortex, the brain area responsible for executive functions and attention performance, is one of the last brain areas to mature and is still in the process of developing during adolescence. This places the adolescent brain in a vulnerable state of imbalance, susceptible to the influence of psychoactive substances such as nicotine. In prefrontal networks nicotine modulates information processing on multiple levels by activating and desensitizing nicotine receptors on different cell types and in this way affects cognition. The adolescent brain is particularly sensitive to the effects of nicotine. Studies in human subjects indicate that smoking during adolescence increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment in later life. In addition, adolescent smokers suffer from attention deficits, which aggravate with the years of smoking.
So perhaps that is a nightmare. The more I read about brain development, the more certain I feel that I can’t think myself out of my fetish. I developed it and a liking for nicotine when my brain was in the process of developing.
The problem is: how do you communicate the risks without being moralizing or unintentionally making it more attractive?
Regardless, I’m finding watching this play out fascinating. Especially this quote from the New Yorker:
Leslie had also noticed “a weird paradox,” she said. “You’re expected to Juul, but you’re expected to not depend on it. If you’re cool, then you Juul with other people, and you post about it, so everyone will see that you’re social and ironic and funny. But, if you’re addicted, you go off by yourself and Juul because you need it, and everyone knows.”
Addiction is highly stigmatized in our culture. To me, the attitude above is how our society encourages drinking. Drink, but not too much and only socially and if you happen to become dependent hide away, don’t let anyone know that you sometimes drink alone or in the morning.
I’ll bet a lot of these Juul users are using way more than their friends think or know. I used to vape in bathroom because I didn’t want my friends to know how addicted I was.
Nobody stealth drinks coffee because caffeine addiction is accepted by society.
I think to help people with addictions you need to destigmatize being addicted. Stigma only drives people further into isolation.
Juuling is the new smoking. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be all these PSA style videos about it filled with hyperbole. Filled with, “We don’t really know what the long term health effects are going to be…” which to be fair, is totally true. We don’t know.
Here are those videos if you are interested:
Also, no need to worry, I think this next gen will have Juuling fetishes instead of smoking fetishes:
So if you come across this because you searched for Juul stuff, welcome to my weird corner of the internets.
If you are addicted, I get it. I’ve been addicted to the milder non-salted nicotine and I found it really hard to quit. But it is possible… All the nicotine salt does is make the buzz better which I know has probably all but disappeared for you if you were as addicted as I was. I literally could vape all day and all it would do is return me to normal, which I now call nicotine normal because it is slightly different than my baseline is off the stuff.
If you are happy Juuling, I’m fairly confident it is better for you than smoking. If you aren’t happy, I suggest cold turkey. I found I could always rationalize stepping the nicotine content back up or vaping more. Cold turkey was like ripping a band-aid off. I felt weird and sucked for awhile but after a certain point withdrawal actually doesn’t feel worse and eventually you start feeling better. If you do choose to gradually wean yourself off, I’d start by getting a vape that you can refill with any juice. This allows you more control over your use and nicotine levels.
I’m finding the parallels between this and smoking fascinating. It is almost like the pharmacology of the drug affects the behaviour. Because many of these Juulers don’t remember when you could smoke inside or a time when smoking was cool. Juuling mirrors my exact high school experience with smoking. At my first school, 50% of students smoked regularly. Rumour was, we had the highest teen smoking rate in the country. The only difference being that potentially more people are trying Juul because they perceive it to be less bad than smoking.
The worse part is my nicotine fiend brain that mostly lies dormant kind of wants to experience “the Juul rush”. Alas, I think I’ll leave that to the kids.