Around 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, a student in a Cottage Club sweatshirt handed a Wawa cashier his ID.
“We only accept American IDs,” said the cashier. The student, irate, stormed out.
He was trying to buy a Juul pod — a container of flavored vaping liquid containing nicotine. The Juul, an electronic cigarette purportedly for smokers trying to quit, is a common device on college campuses. The University is no exception.
Julia Haubert, who works at Wawa, said University students make up the majority of Juul customers.
“There’s people that have come in here and have brought, like, six packs of pods as a starter,” she said. That’s the nicotine equivalent of six packs of cigarettes.
Recent data show that 14 percent of young adults reported having vaped in the last 30 days, according to Linda Richter, director of policy research and analysis at the Center on Addiction. That was back in 2014, before Juuls hit the market, and it is the most recent data on college-aged students.
“My sense is that number is an underestimate,” Richter said. “There is new data coming out on high school students that’s showing that 20 percent are reporting having vaped in the last 30 days. There’s a good chance that it’s at least that high among college students.”
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration called youth e-cigarette use a national epidemic.
The Princeton community was so concerned about a “Juuling” epidemic in middle and high schools last year that the Princeton Police Department, the Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance, and Corner House, a local agency that helps youth confront substance abuse and emotional issues, hosted a forum to address the issue. Richter was invited to talk.
“Teachers were seeing kids using them in the bathrooms,” she recalled. “What really surprised people were how young the students are.”
The Daily Princetonian talked to students on campus who have become recent Juul users.
A sophomore described Juuling with a friend last year.
“We both kind of got addicted to it over the summer,” he said.
Now, he describes his use as intermittent.
“People like doing it mostly when they’re drunk,” he explained, adding that he and two friends will go through a whole pod — which contains as much nicotine as up to two packs of cigarettes — in one night.
He spends about $30 a month on pods, which a friend of a friend supplies him. He said he was aware of the negative health consequences, but he hasn’t tried quitting.
“It’s fun,” he added. “I’m just 19 and I think I’m invincible.”
Another sophomore, who is 21, owns a Juul but said he has only used it a few times himself, citing his weak lungs.
He said he purchases pods for his underage friends five times a week.
Juul pods contain a high concentration of nicotine, the addictive chemical component in cigarettes.
“One Juul pod has about the amount of nicotine as one to two packs of cigarettes,” Richter said.
According to the product’s website, one Juul pod produces about 200 hits. In other words, in 10 to 20 puffs, one will have consumed the equivalent of a cigarette’s worth of nicotine.
The nicotine in Juuls is unlike other nicotine vapes. While most brands use “freebase nicotine,” Juul uses its patented form, JuulSalts, to deliver the compounds. JuulSalts are comparatively easier to inhale, and allow nicotine to be more readily absorbed into the blood, according to the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund.
“The addiction is extremely concerning,” Richter continued. “A good portion of the people who are using e-cigarettes and other vaping devices are now turning to actual, combustible cigarettes, regular cigarettes. The risk is about four times higher for someone who uses an e-cigarette than who never did. And this is among people who never intended to smoke.”
Tavleen, a student at University of Michigan who asked to only use her first name, said she is addicted to nicotine, but she can go without it.
“I mean, I haven’t tried, really. There was a week when I didn’t have pods, so I didn’t use it then,” she added. She estimated that one out of every four students at her school Juuls.
“I could get cancer and literally die,” she said. “I understand the risks.”
Addiction to nicotine is not the only health concern. According to a 2016 Report of the Surgeon General, e-cigarettes can expose users to “carbonyl compounds, and volatile organic compounds, known to have adverse health effects.”
And despite the name, vapes do not contain water vapor, but rather “solvents, flavorants, and toxicants,” whose health effects are not completely understood.
Grace ’22, who asked to be identified with her first name, said she believes Juuling keeps her off other drugs.
“I don’t feel that it presents a problem to academics because you don’t get affected by Juuling,” she wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “I am sure that there are some health concerns, but I am not too familiar with them. I am very indifferent regarding Juuling, as I feel like it’s a better alternative to drugs and/or cigarettes, but it obviously still isn’t great.”
Juul pods are available in eight flavors: menthol, Virginia tobacco, classic tobacco, mango, cucumber, fruit, creme, and classic tobacco. With only two of the flavors — Virginia tobacco and menthol — available in both 3 percent and 5 percent nicotine, the majority of the products are not geared toward those trying to quit smoking. A starter pack of four flavors is also available for users that want to try them. Juuls were designed to be a smoking alternative for those trying to quit, according to the company’s website.
Fruity flavors are not allowed for other products in the industry.
“Cigarettes are not allowed to be sold in flavors other than menthol and there are no such restrictions on vaping products, so they’re sold in all kinds of yummy and enticing sounding flavors,” Richter said. These especially appeal to youth with zero-calorie sweetness and brightly colored packaging, which make pods appear like miniature accessories to be traded.
This approach to smoking is also publicized to viewers of all ages through advertisements on television, billboards, and the radio. Yet cigarette advertisements have been prohibited for years.
Free sampling of cigarettes is also prohibited by convenience stores or gas stations, but Juuls have adapted to subscription box services which effectively provide free goods to frequenters. Every sixth pack ordered to those that subscribe and auto-ship is free.
Although not sponsored by Juul, individual promotion of Juul products gain popularity across the internet. Young people share videos of themselves Juuling through social media and YouTube videos.
There are many policies that can be enacted by both government and schools to reduce the usage of Juuls among young adults.
The restriction of advertisements and the market of Juul products would severely limit young people’s exposure to the product, thus decreasing their usage as well. Richter said that e-cigarette and vaping products should warrant the same ad restrictions as cigarettes.
Richter said that the majority of individuals concerned about the prevalence of Juuling among teenagers agreed that the biggest policy recommendation would be to eliminate flavors in the sale of Juuls. Since the variety of flavors of Juuls is the main attraction for young people, eliminating the flavors would decrease its popularity among its targeted audience.
She suggested that schools can “make sure that there is prevention programs in place, educating students, and also offering students services who are addicted to nicotine … and want to quit.”
At the University of Michigan, which is a smoke-free campus, students can be seen frequently Juuling at parties, according to Tavleen.
States and cities that have raised the minimum age have seen the problem of young people using Juuls decrease, according to Richter.
Another potential policy is to raise the minimum age to purchase Juul products. California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, and Massachusetts have already begun this process by increasing the minimum age from 18 to 21.
Some schools have already established total smoke-free and tobacco-free campuses. As of March 2018, Yale has prohibited the use and sale of tobacco-derived products on their campus. In addition, its student health center offers consultations on nicotine replacement therapy, which are sometimes free of charge for Yale students.
However, even school policy may not necessarily be enough to prohibit tobacco usage on college campuses.
“I rarely see people Juuling outside on campus, but it’s pretty common at suite and frat parties … Even though Yale is supposedly a tobacco-free campus, I’ve actually seen more people smoking cigarettes than I’ve seen Juuling,” wrote Laura Nicholas, a freshman at Yale, in an email to the ‘Prince.’
Back on the University’s campus, the Human Resources Office and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety both enforce a number of rules regarding cigarettes.
One of these rules requires all smokers to maintain a minimum distance of 25 feet from any building and all members to “dispose of any smoking materials in appropriate receptacles” according to the University’s Employee Health Services office. In addition, the University strictly prohibits smoking of any kind in dorms, including the use of e-cigarettes.
These policies are highlighted in the “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” handbook, which is handed to each year’s incoming first-year class.
University Health Services is the primary gateway for students and employees overcoming smoking-related problems. In addition to this resource, the EHS office links other programs for individuals wishing to quit smoking: N.J. Quitline, Nicotine Anonymous, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of N.J. Tobacco Dependence Program to name a few.
There still exist difficulties in enforcing the smoke-free and tobacco-free agenda. To that end, no student reported experiencing difficulty smoking on campus, and all reported starting to Juul on campus.
“It probably started with...hanging out with other people that are Juuling or at a party,” explained Tavleen. “People are like, ‘oh do you want to take a hit?’ if they know that you don't do it.”
“You are going to cough and you start doing it more frequently and get into it and buy your own,” she added.