The romanticized era of the leather jacket-clad, cigarette-puffing teen is gone. In its place is a new age: the dawn of the Patagonia-wearing JUUL-ripping student is upon IU.
The JUUL is a type of small, USB-chargeable vaporizer, more commonly known as a ‘vape,’ whose stated goal is to help adults stop smoking cigarettes.
This kind of vape contains nicotine and is therefore illegal for minors to use.
JUULpods, the vessels containing the nicotine liquid vaporized by the JUUL, come in five flavors, including cool mint, mango, Virginia tobacco, fruit medley and creme brulee. One pod contains about as much nicotine as a standard pack of cigarettes, according to JUUL Labs on their website.
“What we don't want is for people who weren’t otherwise addicted to nicotine to use these products, become addicted, and then potentially switch to combustable cigarettes,” said Jon Macy, an IU professor in the School of Public Health with a focus in nicotine research.
“It's important to note that JUUL is not intended for anyone else but existing adult smokers,” JUUL Labs said in a written statement to IDS. “We market our products responsibly and follow strict guidelines so that material is exclusively directed towards adult smokers and never to youth audiences.”
Despite this statement and warnings plastered across the company’s website, existing adult smokers are not the only customer base JUUL has tapped into. Students who do not smoke cigarettes are reaching for JUULs on IU's campus and beyond.
Macy said it’s difficult to have a clear public health message about vaping since research on the topic remains inconclusive, but there is no evidence that it’s a positive activity.
“I’d rather err on the side of caution and say you’re heating up a bunch of chemicals and breathing them in,” Macy said. “That doesn’t seem like something that’s healthy to do.”
IU freshman Cat Connaughton never smoked cigarettes, but she said she became addicted to the JUUL. She has since stopped using the product.
“After a while of using it, you stop getting the head buzz that you become addicted to because your body is so used to the nicotine, so there was just no reason to,” she said.
She said some people move from JUULs to cigarettes because cigarettes are less expensive.
Parker Hudak, an IU freshman, has a similar story. He became a JUUL user about four years ago when the product became popular in Scottsville, Ariz. Hudak said he was never addicted to cigarettes, but did get addicted to the JUUL.
“When I was addicted to it, I noticed it when I was driving and I started like getting anxious because I was trying to reach for my JUUL and I forgot it at home,” Hudak said.
When IU freshmen Patrick Saling and Chris Hill bought JUULs to try to quit smoking cigarettes, few people had them. Now, they're noticing a lot of non-smokers carrying them around.
“Honestly, I think it’s caught on,” Hill said. “It’s a trend.”
Saling noted that using a JUUL is not an inherently healthy behavior.
“They’re not better than you doing yoga or something like that — they’re not good for you,” Saling said. “There’s no benefits unless you’re choosing it instead of something else.”
None of the individuals interviewed for this article said they had seen advertisements for the JUUL. All said they discovered it through friends.
“It’s a very good ad campaign they have of not having an ad campaign,” IU junior and self-proclaimed ‘JUUL fiend’ Liz Evans said.
In the statement they provided to IDS, JUUL Labs was explicit that they do not advertise to non-smokers. In fact, they hardly advertise at all.
Although the advertising is not widespread, Macy said it’s clear to him that JUUL Labs is marketing its product toward young people.
“While the company might say ‘Our product is meant for switching people off cigarettes,’ the fact that they sell flavors like that has to make you wonder what the truth is,” he said of the JUUL.
The Food and Drug Administration banned tobacco products which contain a "characterizing flavor" in 2009.
Evans said the JUUL is especially appealing because you can use it anywhere, unlike cigarettes.
“Having a cigarette is like a whole thing,” she said. “You have to go outside. It’s like an almost ten minute interaction. You can literally hit your JUUL anywhere.”
Saling said the advent of JUUL culture may indicate a backslide in smoking culture.
“There have literally been campaigns to end the culture that surrounds cigarettes and smoking, and JUULS, while good for smokers, are not good for people in general because they kind of take away from all of that,” he said.