What began as a product created to help adults stop smoking has instead created a new generation of smokers.
The JUUL, a small, nicotine-heavy vape that strongly resembles a flash drive and can be charged in a USB port, has become a popular smoking device to teenagers and young adults. Teenagers in particular specifically are juuling in their homes behind their parents back; they’re even doing it in classrooms.
“(JUULing) is quite popular with freshman,” said Dawn Glunz, a teacher at Lincoln Park High School. “They are doing it in class and in the cafeteria.”
She said teachers find it difficult to discipline students who are caught taking a puff of their JUUL because so many of them are doing it. Because of the device’sir strong resemblance to a USB drive, it is easy for students to hide them and bring them into classrooms without teachers being concerned until they see or smell the vapor.
The JUUL, which now accounts for 54 percent of the e-cigarette market according to a report by Nielsen Holdings, was created by former smokers James Monsees and Adam Bowen to help adult smokers switch to a better alternative. The products contain nicotine but do not have tobacco which is why it is often thought of as a safer alternative.
Adriana Montesdeoca, a Chicago resident, said she made the switch from cigarettes to JUUL’s for this reason. “They don’t have the harmful tar that cigarettes contain,” she said. “They also don’t have as strong of a smell, are flavored and more portable.”
Though they do contain less tar, Juul’s are still as toxic and addictive as cigarettes. The e-liquid cartridges, or “Juul pods” that add the flavor, contain as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.
“Pods are sold in packs of four for about $15-$20,” said Joe Protopappas, an employee at Smoque Vapors. “Since one pod is essentially one pack of cigarettes, that’s $5 a pack which is hard to beat.” The device itself costs anywhere between $34.99 or $49.99 for the starter kit.
Protopappas said that JUUL’s were never marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarettes which is something that consumers don’t understand. “They were made for people who are trying to quit smoking,” he said. “But I am aware that JUUL’s have become popular amongst teenagers and college kids who don’t always or have never smoked.”
He said that the shop gets a large number of teenagers who try to purchase JUUL’s but like cigarettes and alcohol, they are legally sold to adults 21 and older only.
“We’re right next to a high school so we always get kids under 18 coming in here and begging us to sell them JUUL’s,” he said. “But obviously, it’s against the law and overall just not good for them.”
It isn’t hard for minors to purchase them, though. They are being illegally purchased through their older friends or family members in person or online.
A sophomore at DePaul who wishes to be unnamed said she received her first JUUL when she was 18. “I was able to ask one of my cousins who was 21 to buy it for me,” she said. She also said she knows people who sell JUUL’s to minors throughout the city.
This seems to be one of the only ways for minors to purchase the devices. Though it may seem like purchasing a JUUL online is simple enough, there is an age verification process on the product’s official website. The process involves the patron supplying their information, including name, birthday and social security number, before submitting to a verification with Veratad Technologies that validates their information against public records.
“The delivery guy verified my cousin’s ID before giving him the box with the JUUL,” the DePaul student said. “Resell sites like eBay aren’t as strict.”
According to JUUL’s website, they “actively monitor the internet and process thousands of enforcement actions per month.” They ensure that only authorized retailers sell their products. JUUL products are, however, being sold on third-party sites regularly with no penalty.
“My friend purchased a JUUL starter kit on eBay a couple months after I started using mine and she didn’t have a problem,” the student said. eBay currently has 3,830 JUUL listings making purchasing the product as a minor easier than ever.
Yet, college students seem to know when to JUUL and when not to. “It’s so wild to me that high school students are doing it in class,” Adriana Montesdeoca said. “Not even in college do we do that, though I do see the appeal.”
Currently, JUUL products have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to diagnose or treat a smoking addiction nor is it directly reaching that market of smokers as it’s growing success is being linked to teenagers who have likely never smoked. These teens have taken a product meant to help adults stop smoking and turned into their own bad habit. According to a study done by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 30.7 percent of any e-cig users are likely to start smoking within 6 months compared to 8.1 percent of non-smokers.
“Maybe if it wasn’t so popular with young people it would’ve had more of a chance with cigarette smokers,” Montesdeoca said. “Though not directly marketed to teens, social media memes has taken the product as their own.”