By Amanda Johnson
Fruit, mango and creme.
No, these are not flavors at your local ice cream store, but three of the several flavors Juul Labs, creator of the Juul device, has restricted in an effort to reduce the “juuling” of those who are under 21 years old in wake of pressure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“It’s crazy — (new restrictions) affect like half of the college campus,” said Trent Fry, special education sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. “Now, I’m not sure how I’m going to get these flavors.”
Juul is a popular e-cigarette device that is battery operated and works by heating a pod of e-liquid, or Juul pod, to create vapor users inhale. Unlike many other e-cigarette and vape alternatives, it’s an attractive and compact device that packs the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes into a tiny cartridge, according to its website.
Juul Labs was founded by two former smokers whose mission was to eliminate cigarettes. According to its website, Juul products are intended for adult smokers who want to make the switch from combustible cigarettes.
But according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 3.6 million youth are current e-cigarette users. This number is largely because of the recent popularity of Juuls, which are shaped like a USB flash drive, can be used discreetly, come in appealing flavors and have a high nicotine content.
The growing number of youth using e-cigarettes and health concerns related to nicotine has caused Juul Labs to face action from the FDA resulting in stopping the distribution of flavored pods to traditional retail outlets and only selling them through a restricted system. In addition, Juul Labs has shut down its social media platforms, only continuing to use Twitter for non-promotional communications, according to its website.
These new changes came after the FDA gave Juul Labs, as well as other e-cigarette companies, 60 days to submit a plan to help prevent youth from using e-cigarettes in September.
“Our intent was never to have youth use Juul,” said Kevin Burns, CEO of Juul Labs, in a press release Nov. 13 mapping out a plan of action with an aim to work together with the FDA to prevent youth from “initiating on nicotine.” “But intent is not enough. The numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarettes is a problem. We must solve it.”
Fry said he had never heard of Juul before coming to the University of Oklahoma, but within the first few weeks of school, his friends persuaded him to make the switch from the previous e-cigarette device he had used during high school.
“I had smoked other vapes, and then freshman year someone was like, ‘Here, try this Juul,’ and so I did,” Fry said. “It seemed like a better alternative to vapes mostly just because they didn’t look like as douchey.”
The slim and sleek e-cigarette is much smaller than most of its competitors, other vapes that are larger and have moving pieces, making it easier for college students to not only use but conceal.
“Juuls have this extra attractive piece — they are shaped like a flash drive, and you can conceal them easily,” said Page Dobbs, an assistant professor in the OU Department of Health and Exercise Science who specializes in research on young adult e-cigarette exposure. “I’ve had students in my class charge their Juuls in their computer.”
Dobbs, who recently conducted a study over college students using e-cigarettes that is currently under review, said she asked students for her research the reason why they used e-cigarette products. She got various answers, but one common reason stood out.
“We got answers like peer pressure, recreational, flavors and to quit smoking,” Dobbs said. “But our major finding was curiosity.”
Fry said curiosity was one of the initial factors that drew him to switch to Juul — specifically its appealing design. But in addition to its unique style, he was also drawn to its functionality that made it easy to share as well as its “cool factor.”
“Within my friend group, there’s like three Juuls between the five of us — we don’t even know whose is whose,” Fry said. “Whether people want to admit it or not, there’s definitely a cool factor to them.”
According to data collected by Nielsen, Juul makes up more than 70 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market, but its large market share comes with a hefty price for consumers.
“They can be expensive,” Fry said. “I bought (a Juul) for $50 before, but that’s not the big price — it’s racking up Juul pods.”
Fry said he spends on average around $40 a week on Juul pods and purchases them from The Intake, a vape store and national Juul retailer at 1000 Alameda St., where he and his friends receive student discounts.
An employee of the store, who wished to remain anonymous, said on average 400 college students come into the store a day — most of them looking for Juul products.
“People will spend $20 on one pack that only lasts them about four days,” the employee said. “Now, with (new restrictions), all pods are going up in price, and you’ll have to be 21 in order to buy anything other than mint tobacco.”
Juul Labs said it would keep mint, tobacco and menthol flavors for its devices in retail stores to prevent users from reverting to menthol cigarettes, according to its website.
But Dobbs said even though Juul is only keeping these flavors, the danger of nicotine addiction for not only youth but young adults remains present.
“I had a sorority girl come in, she had her little with her, and on her to-do list was to buy her a Juul and some pods,” the employee said. “I looked at her and said, ‘You realize you’re forcing this girl into a nicotine addiction that she’s going to have for the rest of her life?’”
Dobbs said when nicotine enters our bodies, it causes the arteries to constrict, which puts more strain on our heart. But Dobbs said since Juuls are so new, there are not as many studies as most other e-cigarette products — but they are coming out fast.
“It hasn’t yet been linked to strokes, but I don’t think it will take very long for it to be,” Dobbs said. “It has also been recently linked to lung cancer and colon cancer — that’s all been published this year.”
Dobbs said that Juuls haven’t been proven to be a safer alternative. In fact, the device has only served as a gateway.
“Nicotine is addictive — we’ve known it since the ’50s,” Dobbs said. “(Juuls) are causing more people to start using tobacco products than it is helping people quit.”
Despite hearing warnings from friends and researching health dangers, Fry said he will still continue to use Juul against his own better judgment.
“I would say they are probably the most trending bad thing you can do right now,” Fry said. “But I think they haven’t been out long enough to find out long-term what would be bad about them — I’m sure I’ll be a case study by then.”