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Juuls: A healthy smoking alternative, or a dangerous gimmick?

Over the past few years, the rate of smokers in Canada has experienced a slow but steady decline. According to the CBC, the rate of smokers over the age of 12 fell from 18.1 percent to 17.1 between 2015 and 2016. While a variety of factors can be attributed to this decrease, it’s difficult to pin down what exactly is reducing tobacco consumption in Canada, as the reality of the situation is quite convoluted. A complicated nexus of shifting cultural attitudes and governmental initiatives seem to control the baseline for smoking rates in Canada. Regardless, one thing remains clear: smoking is slowly on its way out.

Enter the Juul. The Juul is a small handheld nicotine vaporizer frequently characterised by its potency and ease of use. It is slim and rectangular in shape, and is fueled by small disposable “Juul Pods” that insert into a port at the top of the vape. Each “Juul Pod” is reportedly equivalent to a pack of cigarettes in terms of nicotine content.

According to it’s website, the Juul is the brainchild of Stanford graduates James Monsees and Adam Bowen, who in search for a more satisfying alternative to cigarettes, created the Juul. The Juul was originally produced by Pax Labs, a company known for its luxury marijuana vapes. In 2017, two years after it’s original release in 2015, the Juul was given its own dedicated sub-company of Pax Labs: Juul Labs.   

While the Juul is not currently available in Canada, it has quickly become a distinct phenomena in the US. Juul was originally introduced to the market in 2015, where it rapidly gained popularity. Currently, Juul is dominating the American E-cigarette market. A couple of months ago, it usurped Vuse, the previous e-cigarette market frontrunner. According to Tobacco Business, Juul now controls 46.8% of the e-cigarette market which places it leagues ahead of its fellow contenders.

The slow-burn decline of the tobacco industry has incited an ever-expanding vacuum characterised by a collective interest in products that have addictive properties. In all likelihood, Juul is poised to fill this vacuum, at least in the US. The mission and values section of the Juul website states that “[our] mission is to eliminate cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.” Even as Juul portrays itself as a tool for smoking cessation, its accessibility and assortment of tasty fruit flavors present a significant risk of drawing in new users.

I spoke with 3rd year, John Smith (name changed), a Juul user for the past 6 months, to better understand the on campus realities of the device. Prior to owning a Juul, John was not a smoker. Now, John vapes an entire pod of Juul juice per day. As stated earlier, this is the nicotine equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. I asked John if it was difficult to avoid other nicotine products when he runs out of pods (as they are unavailable in Canada); he said “No, not exactly. But I find myself smoking heavier ratios of tobacco in my spliffs.” My conversation with John highlights the potential that the Juul has for creating a new dependency on nicotine for its users.    

A variety of inconclusive studies have been published on the health impacts of Juuling. Juul labs itself has funded a group of studies in an attempt to protect the reputation of their product. Even still, FDA regulations still bar Juul from stating that their products are “less harmful or safer than cigarettes.” Presently, it seems the Juul is stuck in a limbo of health impact ambiguity. It’s clear that the Juul’s future as a mainstream alternative to cigarettes will only be cemented once it escapes this state of limbo.

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