Scents of subtle fruit and sharp mint filled a room on the second floor of Prosser. An RA or campus safety might assume the aromas come from Febreze, but they come from no other device than the JUUL. A JUUL is a sleek and small vaping device, almost scentless and impossible to detect, and they have taken high school and college campuses by storm. Students get a nicotine buzz without the stink or health risks that come with cigarettes. Because JUULing is so easy, it has created a smooth pathway to nicotine addiction.

On a November afternoon, four students hang out after a day of classes in a small Prosser dorm room. They’re all freshman, and all JUUL “addicts” by their own definition:

 “I don’t need to JUUL I just want to,” said Sam and everybody agreed.

The tenants of the room: Gianna, from Brooklyn, and Nicole*, from Idaho, were both exposed to JUULing in their upperclassmen years of high school, but their “pre-exposure” stories are very different.            

Gianna began smoking cigarettes freshman year of high school, “everyone around me was, it was popular to do in Manhattan, that’s just what you did.”  Across the street from Gianna’s high school was a drug store that sold cigarettes for 25 cents.  “I would skip class and walk across the street to have a smoke.” Her senior year, Gianna started JUULing in order to kick her habit and while she no longer smokes cigarettes, her nicotine addiction is now worse than ever.

Nicole started JUULing just because it was popular. Nicole’s exposure to vaping started in eighth grade when she would hit no-nicotine vapes in her bedroom, “I liked just sitting in my room and watching the smoke go up,” she explains looking in the air as if the vapor is mesmerizingly swirling above her head.

Today Gianna and Nicole are both addicted to JUULing. “Yesterday I drew a tick mark on my arm every time I hit the JUUL and at the end of the day I counted 90, and I definitely missed a lot,” said Nicole. JUUL pods have approximately 150-200 “rips” in them before they run out (depended on how hard you hit it and for what length of time),  Gianna and Nicole both claim to finish about one pod per day, the same amount of nicotine in a whole pack of cigarettes.

“When you get buzzed your whole body tingles it’s such a nice sensation,” says Nicole

“It’s a sensation of-” Says Sam

“It’s a sensation of love,” John interjects

“No no, it’s a sensation of just feeling something going through your body, when you like to smoke you like to smoke, once you have that little thing you can just bring inside your house, it all gets calmed down by the buzz.” Said Sam with glazed, squinty eyes and a slight smile cracked to the side.

 All four agreed that that one of the best parts of JUULing was getting a morning buzz. After using a JUUL habitually, its effects often dwindle, however, when used after waking up JUUL produces its greatest effects.  “You take a morning rip, you sit up, and you’re like… waving,” John states as he sits up in bed and rocks his body from side to side with a grin on his face, mimicking the morning buzz euphoria.

Sam’s eyes suddenly light up, “When I wake up in the middle of the night and get that night rip,” he says and falls back into the bed with arms splayed to his sides and chin pointed towards the sky.

These students are addicted and they don’t even know why.           

Nicotine acts on acetylcholine receptors in the brain that increase the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine and serotonin which results in a pleasant and relaxed feeling. The pleasant and euphoric feeling lasts for only a few minutes and quickly fades, however, increased heart rate may last for several hours after nicotine use.  The problem with these side effects is that they quickly turn into physical addiction, users transition from wanting the calming effects to just fighting the symptoms of withdrawal.

Not only is nicotine already highly addictive but it is actually easier for youth to get hooked. According to the Surgeon General, the part of the brain that’s responsible for decision making and impulse control is not yet fully developed during adolescence making young people already more likely to take risks with their health and safety, including the use of nicotine and other drugs.

In addition to that, the article explains how until about age 25, the brain is still growing. Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections are built between brain cells and these connections form faster in an adolescent brain. Addiction being a form of learning means adolescents can get addicted far more easily than adults.

The JUUL introduces the problems as being marketed as harmless when students don’t even know what could possibly be in them like aerosol or flavoring (diacetyl) which are both carcinogens, and there is no healthy level of carcinogens.  According to a study from Johns Hopkins, researchers found that the vapors from a variety of e-devices contain potentially toxic levels of metals, including lead; however, the study did not include JUULs. Researchers have lingering questions about the long-term effects that using e-cigarettes has on your general health, however, it is certain JUULing leads to addiction.

Some people have suggested that use of e-cigarettes by young people might prevent them from using cigarettes. While other studies show that non-smoking youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try conventional cigarettes in the future than non-smoking youth who do not use e-cigarettes. 

A couple weeks earlier Nicole, Gianna, John, and Sam all smoked a cigarette together after a night out. 

“It was an impulse buy,” says Gianna.

But it might be more than just its physiological effects that get kids hooked, the JUUL makes it easier than ever to get that quick nicotine fix because you don’t even need to get out of bed to do it and its easy to hide your JUUL usage. These intense, but short lasting effects of nicotine often leave users to crave it more frequently.

“Who in their house has told their parents this was a USB?” said John, all four members of the circle hands go up and they laugh.

After the long conversation, the students finally begin to address their intentions of quitting.

“I kind of feel like its a part of the freshman experience, but by sophomore year I want to stop,” said Nicole.

“Yes, I would if I could,” added Gianna

“Only thing scary about it is withdrawal symptoms,” said Sam

The cost of addiction is high, costing about $20 dollars per pack, JUUL cartridges are robbing kids of their money so they can fulfill their addictions. All four students have attempted to quit nicotine, at least for a couple of hours, or maybe days, but could not handle withdrawal symptoms. With the JUUL at their fingertips presenting less harmful side-effects for such feel-good sensations, is there even a point to quitting?

“I’ll quit when reports start coming out about how bad these things are,” said Nicole, “But I know these things are doing something, I can feel it in my lungs.”

*All names have been modified for confidentiality

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