To JUUL or not to JUUL?

Students and faculty examine health implications of JUULing

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A form of vaping, JUULing is the latest trend with college students because of the perception that it’s healthier than smoking other tobacco products or more illicit drugs.

Atman Soni | Cavalier Daily

Some College students are turning to JUULing, a proposed alternative to smoking, as a new way to get the same high that traditional cigarettes offer. While researchers still don’t understand the precise health effects of the product, the JUUL was initially developed to help smokers quit and is now being used as the latest fad in various university settings.

A JUUL is a type of e-cigarette that creates an aerosol to activate ingredients with a regulated heating element. “JUULing” is meant to be an alternative to cigarette-smoking, and the JUULpods all contain nicotine (59 mg/mL per pod), coming in eight different flavors, including “Crème Brûlée” and “Virginia Tobacco.” Compared to a normal cigarette, each JUULpod is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, or approximately 200 puffs. 

A form of vaping, JUULing is the latest trend with college students because of the perception that it’s healthier than smoking other tobacco products or more illicit drugs. In fact, the creators of the JUUL invented the product in order to work with the needs of smokers trying to quit, while preventing youths under age 21 from purchasing their products.

One first-year College student, who asked for anonymity, talked about why he JUULs.

“I don’t necessarily use it regularly — it’s more a medium for me in a lot of ways,” he said. “And it helps a lot with settling out some of my ADHD and stuff. Nicotine has actually been shown to reduce ADHD impacts, so it’s actually part of why a lot of people get into it.” 

While nicotine is a stimulant — a compound that temporarily increases nervous system activity — that mirrors the effects of Ritalin, a common drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, some students JUUL for other reasons.

“There’s so much of this live fast, die young mentality that people kind of forget what that means,” the same student said. “Even when we talk about advertising against tobacco … the biggest issue we have is trying to counter the sleek and chic. And every time you do that, they come up with something new — that’s been the way that capitalism has worked for centuries.”

Christopher P. Holstege, the executive director of Student Health, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that while research is frequently conducted on the prevalence and causes of traditional cigarette use, e-cigarettes remain somewhat of a mystery.

“Factors predictive of the onset of e-cigarette use are not well understood, despite being examined extensively for conventional cigarettes and other substances,” Holstege said. 

According to Holstege, his colleagues at the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University have recently conducted a study demonstrating that males, individuals who have never smoked marijuana, and those with impulsive tendencies are more likely to being using e-cigarettes.  

Holstege also said some e-cigarette manufacturers may specifically design their products to target younger adults by manufacturing thousands of different flavors and free product samples, promoting them on social media and advertising them using celebrity spokespeople. 

Public Health Prof. Robert C. Klesges also said some college students may choose to smoke JUULs to fit in with the crowd, much like they would choose to binge drink in social settings involving alcohol.

According to Klesges, while more research on the differences between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes must be conducted, certain studies show that some e-vapors have negative health effects. 

“We know that a specific chain of e-cigarette vapor has been shown at least in some animals to change DNA,” Klesges said. “There are some indications that it seriously irritates the membranes in the lungs and that sort of thing. So if I were to hazard a guess about conclusion, I would probably say e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes, but they’re not safe.” 

Second-year College student Wil McLaughlin wrote in an email to The Cavalier Daily about his perspective on JUULs and the possible implications for people who experience secondhand e-cigarette smoking.

“If I’m in Clem 2 studying for a test, I should not see a group of loud white guys ‘JUULing’ at the table next to me,” McLaughlin said. “It’d be a health risk for somebody with asthma or other respiratory troubles. We don’t allow smoking in these places, so JUULs shouldn’t be abused there either.” 

Aside from criticizing the behavior of people who choose to vape or JUUL in public spaces, McLaughlin also mentioned that any kind of smoke in your respiratory system isn’t healthy, and that it’s important for the Food and Drug Administration to determine the exact risks and impose regulations.

Klesges said the FDA has been attempting to regulate e-cigarettes such as the JUUL but has faced legal challenges.

“The FDA is trying to get control of e-cigarettes, but the problem is that every e-cigarette company except for one are owned by the major tobacco companies,” Klesges said. “So they’re gonna roll out their lawyers and take the FDA to court, and the FDA has a long history of losing those cases. You’ve got multi-million dollar lawyers against lawyers working for the FDA making 60 grand a year.”

According to Holstege, more studies need to be conducted on the relationship between advertising and impact on young populations in order to properly evaluate the effects of e-cigarette use. Ultimately, it cannot be known whether JUULing or any other kind of vaping is less harmful than other traditional cigarette usage.

“Future research is needed to assess the relative importance of beliefs in influencing uptake of e-cigarettes and how these beliefs are formed in the first place,” Holstege said. “Specifically, we need more detailed analyses among susceptible populations including youth and young adults who are targeted by e-cigarette companies … We need more research about means to correct misinformation about e-cigarette harms and benefits.”

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