On a crisp Saturday night in Allentown, PA, I walk up Chew Street and hear muffled music and minor yelling coming from a house a few feet away from me. As I approach the decrepit house, my social anxiety causes my heart to start knocking on my chest and my blood pressure feels like a thermometer about to erupt. I start tapping around my pants to find my security blanket. I then find her snuggled inside my front pocket, nestled next to my chapstick- my JUUL. Some people have their electronic cigarettes, or JUUL, stuffed in their back pocket, wrestling with the lint and candy wrappers. Some girls have a pocket in their purse that fits their JUUL perfectly. Everyone’s JUUL has a different place, where it sits, and waits to be needed. Then, when the sun goes down and the red Solo cups come out, everyone brings their JUULs out to play.
“Do you want a hit?”
It is very rare to be at a fraternity house party and see a group of people gathered outside smoking a cigarette while conversing. As young adults start to enter the world of college or adulthood, the risks of tobacco and alcohol use increase. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources Report, 22 percent of college students reported engaging in heavy drinking during their first semester in college. This can be linked to smoking behaviors because smokers are more likely to drink alcohol and many college students admit that they typically do not smoke unless they are drunk. “I mainly got the JUUL to enjoy parties more,” one student said as she was JUULing in the library. “It becomes a good distraction when I’m in situations at parties that I either don’t wanna be in or do not know how to interact in.” Buying a pack of cigarettes can get expensive but e-cigs are usually cheaper and easier to smoke inside. This is why it’s an attractive option for adolescents. The FDA and the CDC reported in 2016, along with recent updates on their website, that electronic cigarettes rose from 1.5 percent to 16 percent among high school students. Middle school students use of e-cigs, between the years 2011 to 2016, has risen from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent. This means that over 2 million high school and middle school students have used some form of electronic cigarette in the year 2016. These devices come in many different options such as rechargeable and disposable. The product also comes in a variety of shapes and colors. Many e-cigs look like common household products, such as flash drives, pens, and lipstick so that it blends in with your everyday routine and does not attract attention from outsiders or teachers . There are a variety of e-cigs on the market but the most popular one is the JUUL.
The JUUL was created by James Monsees and Adam Bowen, who were both smokers themselves but desperately wanted to quit the habit. However, they found no easy way to stop smoking so they created the JUUL to help smokers wean off cigarettes. In order to experience the same type of satisfaction as smoking a cigarette, you just have to buy a pack of pods from either your local gas station or smoke shop to begin the adventures of smoking.
According to the JUUL’s website, each pod includes glycerol, propylene glycol, natural oils, nicotine and benzoic acid. Glycerol and propylene glycol are typically found in most vaporization liquids but can also be found in toothpaste. Benzoic acid, found in tobacco plants, is a naturally occurring acid. Each JUUL pod contains 0.7mL with 5 percent nicotine by weight, which is equivalent to 1 pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs from a JUUL. However, not everyone realizes that spoking a pod is equivalent to smoking a whole pack. “Woah, are you serious?” One student said as he twirled his JUUL in between his fingers as if it was a baton, “maybe I should cut back a little.”
“Why do you have duct tape on your JUUL?” I asked as I grabbed his JUUL from his palm. The duct tape was cold but the JUUL’s body was warm. The music from the party started to rattle the house and students began flowing through the front door more frequently.
“So I know which one is mine!” He yelled as if I had personally insulted his design choice.
Most JUULs are sleek and metallic with a shiny black hat that snaps in at the top of the device. Recently, there has been an accumulating number of JUULs popping up on every college campus, local bars, and even in high school and middle school bathrooms. Since all JUULs have the same shape and color, most adolescents customize their device unless they own the gold JUUL. The blush gold kit are only for the dedicated JUUL customers. It requires the buyer to pay for a monthly subscription for a minimum of 3 months and to buy at least 2 packs of pods a month, which can cost around 70 dollars or more.
Paul’s JUUL was wrapped with two small bands of black duct tape intertwined between yellow strips of tape. The sides of the duct tape were fraying but it did not bother Paul. Two more students slid up next to me while holding their own unique JUULs. One of them had an outline of a fish on the back of it and the other one had a marble printed sticker that was customized specifically for his JUUL.
The original design purpose of the JUUL was to create a sleek and more modern look so that it did not remind adult smokers of a cigarette. According to JUUL’s VP Corporate Relations staff, many customers wanted the JUUL to not smell or resemble a cigarette to help them quit. However, this sleek and modern JUUL has also attracted underage high school students. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, underage kids are more vulnerable in social settings so if the environment they are surrounded in has a large usage of tobacco, it makes the product seem more appealing. Young people want to fit in with their peers and if there are large group settings with people smoking, it encourages kids to smoke because it makes them seem “cool.” Smoking is also captured and idealized in many video games, movies, and websites, which encourages many kids to try smoking.
The act of smoking is often influenced by social settings and also through marketing. Many adolescents first learn about smoking cigarettes through watching their peers smoke nicotine rather than their school system. According to Dr. Stefanie Sinno, a psychology professor who studies child and adolescent development, many adolescents try smoking because of risk-taking. Examining this issue in a physiological perspective, adolescents either want to gain acceptance by his or her peers or establish a particular social identity. Through risk-taking, adolescents have the ability to try on different “faces” to see what they think fits them best and to figure out what feel most comfortable with. This can encourage friends and family to reach out to the adolescent and comment on whether or not it fits their character. Since these adolescents assume it is a “low stake risk” they can become addicted quicker causing them to ignore the side effects due to the attention they are receiving from peers. Some students could be forcing themselves to enjoy the act because of their peer’s reassurance, attention, and a reinforced sense of belonging.
The electronic cigarette is marketed as being the “cool and new way of smoking,” according to students in both high school and college, and for being a less harmful way of indulging in cigarettes. This gives adolescents, according to Dr. Sinno, the idea that they are just participating in a small risk in comparison to other drugs. Most high school and middle schools only target the harm and repercussions of drinking and driving and marijuana usage more than the use of electronic cigarettes. However, the JUUL is working to engage with school districts across the country to educate teens on why smoking is unhealthy and how the JUUL product is intended only for adult smokers. They are also working with law enforcement and community leaders to start a new program to monitor age verification. This includes deploying secret shoppers in local retail stores to monitor who is purchasing JUULs . But even as the company continues to patrol underage usage, there are still many adolescents who are getting their hands on the product.
I began to tuck Paul’s JUUL in between my pink lips as if it was nestling between two feather pillows. As I sucked his mint pod, the JUUL’s light started to sparkle and I could feel the smoke creep down my throat and into my chest. I took the pen out of my mouth along with quick inhale and then pushed out a cloud of white vapor up into the air. As the mist disappeared, I took out my basic security blanket and she began flashing her vibrant green light to let me know she was awake and ready to socialize.
“Why don’t you have anything on your JUUL?” The fish JUUL boy asked.
“I didn’t know I had to have something on it,” I said as our babies rested inside the palm of my hand, as if they were having a party of their own. I began to look around, as if I had an owl’s head, and noticed almost everyone was holding a red Solo cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Some people were holding a Blu E-Cig while others were smoking a regular Marlboro Golds. My head tilted up to watch the JUUL boys smoking their different flavored pods. “I honestly don’t know what I would even put on it,” I shamefully admitted as if I was confessing my deepest secret. Paul took back his JUUL from my little chubby fingers and reached into his front pocket for his keys.
“I’ll engrave something on the back for you if you want. Then you will know which one is yours if you ever end up losing it or something,” Paul said after taking a long rip from his JUUL.
“I guess just engrave my initials on the back then?” I asked in need of reassurance. Paul nodded his head and I placed my JUUL gently on the table next to us. It was as if he was going to perform surgery on my child and I was in the waiting room hoping that she would come out alive. The four of us gathered around to watch him dig his dirty key into my JUUL’s soft metal back. We all held our breath in hopes that he would not mess up the procedure. The boys around me continued to take hits of their JUULs causing the room to clog up with smoke. I began biting my nubby nails worried that Paul, my newly hired JUUL tattoo artist, would not be able to see well and mess up. More people gathered around the table to watch my JUUL’s procedure. Paul’s forehead started to glisten and a droplet slithered down the side of his face, which eventually landed inside the crevice of his ear. As he finished the drawing last arc of my initial, he put his key down and took a deep breath as if he had just came out of an 8 hour surgery room. He handed me my baby and I grazed my fingers over my initials. I put my mouth up to her little head, gave it a kiss, and blew out a cloud of minty freshness. But little did I know, later that week, my baby would be abducted by red Solo cups and careless fraternity boys. I never saw her again. Parties were never the same without my JUUL. A piece of me was missing and I longed for her companionship. I knew I had to replace her. Later that week, I traveled to my local gas station, handed over my credit card and bought a new friend.