The standard elementary school health class instilled the dangers of smoking cigarettes: rapid aging, horrific black lungs, a possible permanent hole in your neck just to breathe and even death. When talking to the average young adult, it seems like these lessons actually made a difference. “Cigarettes are gross,” they may say, “I just JUUL.”
The potential person living under a rock may ask, “What’s a JUUL?” JUUL is a small, sleek electronic cigarette that was introduced by PAX Labs in 2015. It can easily be mistaken as a high-end flash drive, and can be charged from any USB port.
JUULing should not be a trendy status symbol; it is a health risk. Just as how we disdainfully regard the rampant cigarette addictions among our parents’ generation, and can see the harmful effects taking shape now, soon our own children will do the same — if nicotine-borne reproductive issues don’t stop JUULing students from having kids of their own in the first place.
But the device is a force to be reckoned with. JUUL’s fast growth contrasts dramatically with its fellow e-cigarette competitors. The device’s retail sales exceed $100 million quarterly and $650 million every year. It is the largest e-cigarette brand on the market, taking up more than half the e-cigarette retail market share, according to a study jointly conducted by Georgia State University and the University of Chicago.
PAX Labs claims that JUUL products are targeted toward adult cigarette smokers wishing to get off nicotine for good. The device supposedly mimics the feeling of smoking a real cigarette with only five ingredients: glycerol, propylene glycol, nicotine, benzoic acid and food-grade flavoring. Looking around the average high school or university, however, and one will find their supposed plan took a direction of its own.
Many USC students, who probably never had a nicotine addiction in their lives, can be found JUULing in their rooms, at parties or even in lecture halls, inhaling from the device and then dipping their heads into backpacks or sweaters so professors don’t notice the plumes of vapor in the air. A lot of them even add a little personal touch to the tiny e-cigarette, with colorful stickers or artistic etchings.
It is hard to blame students for their JUULing habit. The refreshing menthol or fruit-flavored nicotine is both a stimulant and relaxant. It can get someone going during a rough morning and calm them down when anxiety hits — but it’s also as chemically addictive as cocaine or heroin, according to the National Institute of Health.
Nicotine use issues don’t merely end with addiction. Nicotine is also a carcinogen, linked to increased susceptibility to four types of cancer: lung, gastrointestinal, pancreatic and breast. It weakens the immune system, can lead to erectile dysfunction and impair menstrual cycles and fertility. Any beneficial effects of nicotine are yet to be proven.
Each JUUL pod has the nicotine equivalence of a pack of cigarettes, according to the company’s website. Students finishing at least one JUUL pod a day essentially smoke at least a pack of cigarettes a day.
Researchers have no public data on the effects of long-term JUUL use, mainly because the product has only existed for such a short period of time. This is even more concerning, as present JUUL smokers will be the test subjects for a product that surely will reveal negative effects after long-term usage.
An addiction that is so preventable doesn’t belong in the great minds of students who have and continue to achieve so much in their academic and life pursuits. Common issues such as anxiety and grogginess also come with a plethora of healthier, less self-destructive remedies alternative to JUULing: meditation, exercise and a healthier diet are only a few examples.
In the age of instant gratification, it can be so easy to resort to a tiny flash drive with a pretty colorful light as a temporary cure to recurring issues — but we know better, and can definitely do better, than to plummet into big tobacco’s obvious and sinister trap.
Big tobacco: the mighty behemoth that already has the blood of 480,000 Americans every year on its hands, according to the Center for Disease Control, does not deserve our attention — much less our precious time and business.
“My life may be an absolute mess,” Twitter user Ariel Rose tweeted, “but at least I don’t have a nicotine addiction from a flash drive.”