The JUUL is a small e-cigarette or 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.
Juuling is vaping, and the JUUL is an e-cigarette. Some 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. 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), flavorings, and nicotine.
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 convenient, pocketable devices.
There is a lot of misinformation about the JUUL. Some incorrect beliefs are just myths, rumors or misconceptions, but some are outright lies. Unfortunately, it’s often trusted people delivering this misinformation, like school officials and doctors. Frequently they themselves have been misinformed, and are just sharing someone else’s “facts.”
How do you separate the juuling lies from the facts? We can help!
Is juuling bad for you? “Vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders,” says 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.
If vaping has some well-hidden long-term risk, it might be decades before it’s discovered — but that’s unlikely based on the extensive knowledge we already have. Evidence to date suggests vaping’s risk profile is similar to pharmaceutical nicotine products, and therefore unlikely to pose serious health risks.
The risks of nicotine itself are well understood. Many people mistakenly believe that nicotine is a serious health hazard. But it’s actually the smoke — the products of combustion, especially tar and carbon monoxide — that cause the harms from smoking cigarettes. Some people, like pregnant women and people with heart disease, should avoid nicotine. But for most healthy adults, nicotine isn’t much riskier than caffeine.
Fear and uncertainty are powerful things, and JUUL has faced unfounded accusations of marketing a dangerous product. Early in 2018, they responded publicly to a viral online rumor that juuling causes lung cancer. Lung cancer, of course, takes decades to develop, and experts don’t believe that vaping causes cancer.
Popcorn lung is an unusual and deadly condition first observed among some workers in microwave popcorn factories. Its real name is bronchiolitis obliterans, or obliterative bronchiolitis. It’s caused when inhaled chemicals scar the smallest airways within the lungs (bronchioles) and reduce their capacity and efficiency.
There is concern that e-liquid containing the flavoring chemicals diacetyl and acetyl propionyl could cause popcorn lung. JUUL’s e-liquid doesn’t contain those chemicals though. And more importantly, the small amounts found in some e-liquids have never led to a diagnosis of popcorn lung in a vaper. No cigarette smoker has ever been diagnosed with bronchiolitis either, despite cigarette smoke containing far more diacetyl than any vapor product.
JUUL is the most popular vape with everyone. Singling out teenagers is a meaningless claim. It is illegal for minors to purchase the JUUL, but it’s also illegal for them to buy any e-cigarette — or for that matter, beer, liquor, marijuana, or any illicit drug. To the endless frustration of parents the world over, teenagers always manage to find ways to get hold of things they want to experiment with.
And experimenting is what they’re doing. Even the recent Truth Initiative survey — which alarmists have used to whip up fear about juuling — found that only 21 percent of 15 to 17-year-olds even recognized the JUUL. And just 7 percent had ever tried it. “Ever tried” doesn’t mean regular use either — it means even just one puff. Kids try things. But more are trying (and regularly using) alcohol and marijuana than the JUUL.
JUUL is carefully marketed to adults — almost painfully so. The packaging is clean and simple. The flavors are very plain. And the product isn’t cheap. A JUUL starter kit (one JUUL unit and four pods) costs $50 — hardly a teenage impulse purchase. Recently, JUUL Labs announced a comprehensive strategy to combat youth use.
That claim is the result of dishonest activists or sloppy reporting, or both. While many adult vapers enjoy candy-flavored e-liquid, they don’t vape it from JUUL pods. JUUL’s e-liquid flavors are Classic Tobacco, Classic Menthol, Cool Mint, Virginia Tobacco, Mango, Cool Cucumber, Fruit Medley, and Creme Brulee.
No amount of juuling or vaping is like smoking any cigarettes at all — because e-cig vapor doesn’t contain smoke. However, vapers do absorb about as much nicotine from each JUUL pod as from a pack of cigarettes. But what’s often not explained is that juulers don’t vape the whole pod at once. Vaping an entire pod takes about the same number of puffs as smoking a whole pack of cigarettes — hundreds. Even a very determined juuler would take hours to vape a whole pod.
There has never been evidence proving that nicotine or smoking cause brain damage. However, the theory that nicotine affects adolescent brain development is an old one, based entirely on studies of adolescent rodents. There has never been any study of humans that shows cognitive impairment from nicotine use, and many scientists consider animal models unreliable as proxies for human physiology anyway.
That doesn’t mean that teenage nicotine use is a good thing however. Even though nicotine is a relatively mild drug, it may cause dependence with regular use.
Describing the effect of juuling as “getting “high” is a wild exaggeration. Nicotine can make a new user feel a little lightheaded, but that quickly dissipates. Juul is partly so popular because it delivers nicotine like a cigarette — quickly. Smokers are the target JUUL market, and this is a benefit for them since the powerful delivery makes it easier to replace smoking with juuling.
The e-liquid in the JUUL is made with “nicotine salts,” a chemical formulation that reduces the pH of the liquid, making a high concentration of nicotine less harsh and more palatable 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 to allow the user to take smaller puffs.
JUUL Labs only sells online to adults 21 or older, even in states where the legal age is 18. The age verification system on their commerce site is among the most advanced anywhere, and they don’t allow purchases with debit or prepaid credit cards.
Sales of vapor products like JUUL to minors have been federally illegal since 2016 (and were illegal in 48 states before that). The FDA Center for Tobacco Products does regular checks of retail stores and vaping websites to verify compliance with the age law.
JUUL pods are factory sealed and aren’t designed to be refillable, but they can be opened and refilled with some effort. However, the delicate wick and coil in the JUUL are designed to vaporize standard e-liquid, not thick oils like marijuana extracts. Those are vaped from vape pens with atomizers made especially for use with oils and waxes.
Any consumable product could potentially be tampered with or spiked with something. Worrying about JUULs being laced with illicit drugs is like fearing bottled drinks being spiked with alcohol. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s happening.
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. But the evidence is anecdotal.
“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.”