By KATELYN HOWARD
Reoccurring sights on a college campus include students riding their bikes or organizations handing out flyers, but another common sight at the University of Oklahoma is vapor clouds, which are often accompanied by scents like mango or creme.
Whether walking to class or studying in the library, an increasing number of students can be found using electronic cigarettes like the brand JUUL, but efforts to decrease nicotine use among minors and young adults might change this.
JUUL devices, which hit the market in 2015, can be used discretely since they resemble in both style and size a USB flash drive. JUULpods, which are cartridges that are placed into the top of the device, contain a salt-based nicotine e-liquid formula, according to JUUL’s website. When the e-liquid is heated, the vapor is generated and inhaled.
The nicotine in one JUULpod is equivalent to a whole pack of cigarettes, but about 37 percent of 15- to 24-year-old JUUL consumers are unaware of whether the product contains nicotine, according to the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.
In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that the agency is seeking to have all flavored e-cigarette products, other than tobacco, mint and menthol, “sold in age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification.”
Two days before this announcement, JUUL Labs CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement that the company would discontinue selling fruit and desert-flavored JUULpods to retailers and will only sell them to stores that scan IDs to ensure the customer is 21-years-old. For online purchases, the company will use more age-verification measures.
Alex Weeks, a 21-year-old Norman resident, said he started smoking cigarettes when he was 15 and started using e-cigarettes when he was 18. He used the JUUL for about four months and would use about one JUULpod a day, with mint being his favorite flavor.
“It was nice to feel that rush to the head and that tingling sensation again after not feeling that from smoking for a long time,” said Weeks.
He still alternates between vaping and smoking cigarettes
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of e-cigarette users are under the age of 35-years-old, and consumption is the highest among 18- to 24-year-olds with about 2.8 million users in this age range.
JUUL is more popular than any e-cigarette brand made by big tobacco companies, according to the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. Garrett Lee, an associate at the vaporizer store The Intake in Norman, said about every 3 out of 5 customers buys JUULpods or a similar pod system. He said people of all ages purchase JUUL products at the store, but many are 18- to 20-year-olds.
The Intake is about four miles away from OU. A pack of four JUULpods cost about $16, according to JUUL’s website.
Lee said the restrictions have not impacted the store’s business yet since they have a large supply of flavored JUULpods. Once their supply is gone, they will have to wait to get an ID scanner and will only be able to sell JUULpod flavors like mango, cucumber, creme and fruit to customers 21-years-old or older. Customers between the ages of 18- to 20-years-old will still be able to purchase mint, tobacco and menthol-flavored JUULpods.
Weeks now uses a cheaper e-cigarette, but he enjoyed using the JUUL since it was small, simple to use and could easily be charged by using a USB port.
“I didn’t have to mess with buying juice and filling it up or anything,” Weeks said. “I would just buy the pods, buy the JUUL and go.”
Julie Bisbee, director of public information and outreach for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, said it is fair to say e-cigarette usage can be higher in a college town like Norman since it houses a larger number of 18- to 24-year-olds.
Nicotine typically does not have an appealing flavor, Bisbee said, so flavored products ease the harshness. She said placing more restrictions on fruit and desert-flavored nicotine will hopefully lead to fewer young people experimenting with e-cigarettes.
“We know that the person’s brain is still developing until they are 25 so those things that you start doing in adolescents and young adulthood can be hardwired into your brain and make it even more difficult to quit nicotine, which in and of itself is highly addictive,” Bisbee said.
Nicotine can have long-term damaging effects on adolescent brain development and can affect the cardiovascular system, according to the Youth Engagement Alliance For Tobacco Control.
Even though the JUUL and e-cigarettes can be used to help people stop smoking cigarettes, it has also attracted many non-smokers. Out of all e-cigarette consumers, 15 percent never smoked cigarettes, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust funds services like 1-800-QUIT NOW, which is a 24 hour, seven days a week hotline where tobacco users can call and receive services and free nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. Bisbee said the trust is preparing to launch a campaign about the risk and harm of flavored nicotine products.