Juuling at Dartmouth: Addiction renewed and reimagined

by Gigi Grigorian | 2/9/18 2:50am

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by Tiffany Zhai / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

This article was featured in the 2018 Winter Carnival Issue.

With the increasingly common use of Juul e-cigarettes at the College, Dartmouth students have bought into a trend that is spreading across college campuses.

Tanya Shah

Juuls are small, sleek-looking electronic devices, and users purchase and place disposable, nicotine-filled Juul pods inside their devices. According to the company website, one Juul pod allows the user about 200 puffs, and it is considered to be equivalent to one pack of cigarettes. The Juul was originally produced by Pax Labs until the company separated in 2017. Dartmouth alumnus Tyler Goldman ’88 was the chief executive officer of Pax Labs and Juul from August 2016 until December 2017.

In a recent survey conducted by The Dartmouth through Pulse from Jan. 29 to Feb. 7, of the 862 College students who responded to the survey, 11 percent use a Juul “often” or “very often,” while another 10 percent reported that they use a Juul “sometimes.”According to the survey, 82 percent of students at the College know what a Juul is; 10 percent of Dartmouth students reporting that they own one; and 41 percent of Dartmouth students report having used a Juul.

Juuls have witnessed a rapid growth in the United States since their release in 2015. These e-cigarettes are among the most popular vaping devices, holding about 33 percent of the e-cigarette market share as of December 2017.

Juuls have become especially common on college campuses. The University of Illinois’ student newspaper, The Daily Illini, published an editorial in October 2017 warning against the increasingly popular use of Juuls, describing it as an “epidemic.” The Washington Square News, New York University’s student newspaper, also reported in the influx of Juuls on campus, noting their use around campus and inside dorms despite the university’s smoking ban.

The U.S. Office of the Surgeon General advises against use of e-cigarettes due to their high nicotine content and potentially harmful ingredients, including “ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds; and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead.” The Surgeon General also notes that e-cigarette use is higher among younger demographics.

Because the rise of Juuls and other vaping devices occurred so recently, the College has not collected data about the use of these devices in their biennial health surveys, said Brian Bowden, the lead BASICS counselor at Dartmouth. According to Bowden, the next survey, which will be released this year, will likely include questions about e-cigarette use in order to reflect their growing popularity on campus.

The only information the College has collected about vaping comes from the pre-matriculation survey for the Class of 2021. The survey, which was fielded over the summer, reported that about 9 percent of incoming first-years used vaping devices before coming to the College, Bowden said. However, Bowden noted that this number has likely increased since that survey occurred.

Indeed, The Dartmouth’s survey found that 10 percent of the 300 first-years who responded said that they use a Juul either “often” or “very often.” Additionally, 11 percent answered that they “sometimes” use a Juul. These data from the first-year class are similar to those describing other class years at Dartmouth.

However, first-years, by a narrow margin, have the highest rate of Juul ownership when compared to other classes at the College. Of the first-year survey respondents, 11 percent reported that they own a Juul. Meanwhile, around 10 percent of the 211 reporting sophomores, 152 reporting juniors and 148 reporting seniors said that they own a Juul.

Because Juuls and other vaping devices are relatively new, there is little research about their long-term health effects. The lack of information starkly contrasts the large amount of data indicating that cigarette usage has severe consequences. Bowden cites this reality as a major contributor to the rise of Juuls and similar devices.

“I think we’ve had over the past 20 years a pretty good campaign [against cigarettes], so people are aware that cigarette smoking is harmful with lots of carcinogens,” he said. “With e-cigarettes and with vaping, there’s not enough data out there to indicate what is harmful, and how harmful it is.”

Unlike cigarettes, Juuls do not contain substances that are known to be carcinogens, Bowden said.

However, Bowden said he believes that Juuls will eventually be found to cause health issues. He emphasized that, right now, “We don’t have research to support how harmful it is.”

A female member of the Class of 2020, who chooses not to use a Juul and has asked to remain anonymous due to the stigma surrounding this topic, said that she believes Juul users understand the potential for unknown health consequences.

“I do think that people know that breathing particulate matter is not the best thing for you, but I think, because it’s water vapor, it does seem slightly better,” she said.

While the long-term consequences of vaping remain unknown, research has shown that nicotine-containing devices are addictive. When individuals use products with nicotine, the substance is quickly absorbed into their bloodstreams and triggers the release of adrenaline.

The adrenaline creates a sensation of energy and pleasure. When that feeling ends, nicotine users experience withdrawal symptoms, prompting them to consume more nicotine. Over time, nicotine products become addictive, as users build up an increasingly strong tolerance to their enjoyable effects and want to avoid withdrawal symptoms. To this end, Bowden noted that nicotine “is much more highly addictive than some other substances.”

E-cigarettes, like Juuls, contain nicotine and become addictive when individuals become reliant on their pleasurable effects. As a brand, Juul advertises its products as an alternative for cigarette smokers.

Despite Juul’s positive marketing, the female ’20 said she thinks that many students at the College began vaping even though they had never smoked cigarettes.

“I’ve heard [justifications] like, ‘I tried it out because it’s better for you than smoking cigarettes’ from someone who never smoked cigarettes before,” she said.

However, she noted, “I also have friends who smoke weed and they [use a Juul] as a mid-ground alternative.”

She added that she chose not to use Juuls due to the addictive nature of nicotine in the devices, combined with her disinterest in engaging with the activity.

“To me, Juuling is a trend, so it seems silly to start an addiction based purely on social trends — not even because you really want to, just because other people are doing it,” she said. “It’s a trend that depends on human addiction.”

In contrast, a male member of the Class of 2020, who identifies as an e-cigarette user and who has also asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly about his usage, said he is “not worried at all” about the risks of vaping.

“The general testimony at this stage is that [vaping is] less harmful than cigarettes,” he said. “I don’t plan on doing it for my entire life. As long as I just relegate it to a college thing, I think I will be fine.”

While vaping may appear to be healthier than smoking cigarettes, the male ’20 cited additional reasons for preferring e-cigarettes over the traditional kind. He explained that vaping is appealing to him because it mitigates the indiscretion associated with cigarettes.

“I think the main stigma around cigarettes is the smell, the taste and the lack of discretion,” the male ’20 said. “You need a lighter, and it’s producing smoke constantly.”

“People rip it in class,” he continued. “That’s a testimony to how discrete to use it is.”

He also noted that vaping devices are more desirable than using cigarettes because they are “more customizable.”

“You get whatever flavor you want, and you can pick the nicotine level you want,” he explained.

When asked about the most common location for vaping, the male ’20 quickly responded, “frat basements.”

“In social situations, especially with drinking, is when I hit my nicotine device the heaviest,” he said.

The female ’20 echoed this idea, citing parties and her sorority as the common locations in which she witnesses vaping.

The survey results indicate the trend that these students identified. Only 35 percent of 173 reporting fraternity members and 57 percent of 175 sorority members at the College responded that they have never used a Juul. In contrast, the survey results indicate that 67 percent of 478 reporting non-affiliated students have never used a Juul.

Likewise, 31 percent of students at the College answered in the survey that they use a Juul “when I am going out,” and 30 percent of students reported that they use a Juul “with friends.”

While Bowden has concerns about the health effects of Juuls and other vaping devices, he said he understands why students use these products.

“At this age group, young adults are in a stage of their life where they’re differentiating between themselves and what has been taught to them,” he said. “They are developing their own identity. The way they do that is to test out those things they have been taught and take risks.”