What is Juuling and Who’s Doing It?

 Is juuling the same thing as vaping? Is it safe? And why is it so popular these days?

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What is Juuling_Man_vaping_on_the_juul

The JUUL is a small personal vaporizer that delivers nicotine almost as well as a cigarette, which makes it effective for people who want to replace smoking with a safer nicotine source. Many JUUL users call vaping a JUUL “juuling.”

Because of its popularity, the JUUL has attracted a lot of attention — not all of it good. Tobacco control groups say juuling is an epidemic, and have accused manufacturer JUUL Labs of designing the stealthy vape for teens. But its small size and light weight are benefits to vapers who want a convenient, pocketable device.

What’s the difference between juuling and vaping?

Juul device and pods

Some JUUL users refer to the act of vaping a JUUL as “juuling.” And some who first began vaping with the JUUL call all forms of vaping “juuling,” like many people refer to all facial tissues as Kleenex. But the JUUL works like all vapes: a battery-powered device heats a coil that vaporizes liquid that is drawn into the coil with a wick. The e-liquid contains a base of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine (or both), usually some flavoring, and nicotine if the vaper wants it.

The e-liquid in the JUUL is made with “nicotine salts,” which is a chemical formulation that reduces the pH of the liquid, making a high concentration of nicotine less harsh and tastier for the user. High-strength nicotine is a necessity in a device as small as the JUUL. The tiny battery and pod — each one holds just 0.7 mL of e-liquid — would be used up very quickly if the JUUL didn’t have a high nicotine concentration.

A common claim about JUUL is that each pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. That’s true, but it’s a deceptive statement, since juulers don’t vape the whole pod at once anyway. Vaping an entire pod takes about the same number of puffs as smoking a whole pack of cigarettes — hundreds.

Juul delivers nicotine like a cigarette. Since smokers are the target market, this is a good thing. As espresso does with caffeine, the JUUL concentrates nicotine into a smaller puff of vapor than large vaporizers that use lower-strength nicotine. While a 12-ounce cup of drip coffee has the same amount of caffeine, an espresso shot condenses the effect of the caffeine into a single ounce that is consumed quickly.

Many coffee aficionados prefer that experience. And many smokers who are accustomed to the powerful nicotine delivery of combustible cigarettes get a similar experience from the JUUL.

Why is juuling popular?

JUUL has the convenience of cigarettes and appeals to smokers who don’t want to fuss with large refillable vapes. JUUL’s availability outside of specialist vape shops means that more smokers are likely to buy the product. In the convenience store market, JUUL is now outselling all of its tobacco industry-owned competitors combined.

Girl juuling

The prefilled JUUL pods are available in several flavors. According to our readers poll, the most popular is Mango, followed by Cool Mint. The least popular are Fruit Medley and Virginia Tobacco. That’s not unusual, by the way. After leaving the harsh taste of burning tobacco behind, vapers often seek out sweet and candy-like flavors.

There are stories about juulers replacing the nicotine e-liquid with cannabis oil. The JUUL isn’t designed to be refillable, but it can be opened and refilled with some effort. However, the delicate wick and coil in the JUUL are not designed to vaporize thick oils like marijuana extracts. Those are vaped from vape pens made especially for the task.

Is juuling safe?

Vaping has only been around for about a decade, so there hasn’t been time to gather long-term health data on vapers. “Vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders,” according to Professor John Newton of Public Health England.

U.S. health authorities like the American Cancer Society now agree with Public Health England that switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits.

In a study that followed vapers who have never smoked, and measured key health indicators over a 3.5-year period, Dr. Riccardo Polosa found that even those who vaped the longest showed no indication of damage to heart or lungs. But young people who smoke cigarettes show signs of lung damage after just two years.

Evidence to date suggests vaping’s risk profile is similar to pharmaceutical nicotine products, and therefore unlikely to pose serious health risks. Many people mistakenly believe that nicotine is a serious health hazard. But it’s actually the products of combustion — including tar and carbon monoxide — that cause most of the harms from smoking cigarettes.

But the fear and uncertainty are powerful things, and JUUL has faced unfounded accusations of marketing a dangerous product. Early in 2018, they were forced to respond publicly to a persistent viral rumor that juuling causes lung cancer.

Why are people afraid of juuling?

Man juuling

Some people are worried about juuling because they’ve seen alarming stories in newspapers and on TV news. The word “juuling” is often used as a catchall term for teenage vaping. A campaign to generate fear and doubt about juuling is underway, propelled by groups opposed to all vaping and nicotine use, and aimed at scaring understandably concerned parents.

“The media reports of a teenage juuling ‘epidemic’ do not add up with population studies that show regular use of these products by never smokers to be very low,” University of Waterloo (Ontario) sociologist Amelia Howard told Vaping360. “The juuling stories have the classic hallmarks of a moral panic: widespread fear based on exaggerated risk.”

JUUL is often accused of “marketing to youth,” and fears are being stoked that juuling and vaping are encouraging kids to take up smoking. But teenage smoking has dropped to its lowest level since surveys began measuring it.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 24.6 percent of 12th graders smoked cigarettes daily in 1997. But in 2017, just 4.2 percent smoked daily. And teen vaping itself has been declining. From 2015 to 2016, the number of middle and high school students who reported using e-cigarettes dropped almost 30 percent.

“This needs to be understood in light of the politics of disruptive innovation,” says Amelia Howard. “Vaping solves the problem of smoking, and stands to make cigarettes — and the treatment of tobacco addiction — obsolete. JUUL, as an attractive mass market product, is particularly threatening to existing interests, and a perfect target.”

Is juuling good or bad?

Before you judge whether juuling is a good or bad thing, consider what it replaces. Most juulers would probably be smoking cigarettes if vaping wasn’t available to them.

So whether juuling offers a path away from cigarettes for existing smokers, or an alternative for those who might otherwise start smoking, it’s providing a nicotine choice that doesn’t involve breathing smoke.

Jim McDonald
Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy