By Sam Padgett
There’s a new verb hanging in the Charlottesville air: JUULing. If you have heard it, most likely from a high school- or college-aged kid, rest assured it isn’t some odd youth mining craze. A JUUL, pronounced “jewel,” is a small vaping device that can be found in nearly any local convenience store. The device itself is nearly indistinguishable from a USB thumb drive, with no visible buttons or dials, which appeals to teens who want to hide it from parents and teachers.
A quick Google search on JUUL pulls up hundreds of headlines that point out the JUUL’s higher than normal average nicotine content for an e-cigarette and the candy-like flavors it comes in. The base device, which costs around $50, relies on replaceable pods that come in a variety of flavors, such as mango, mint, Virginia tobacco, fruit medley and crême brulée. Each individual JUUL pod, a slim translucent box about the size of a mahjong tile, is roughly equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes. (The JUUL uses nicotine salts found in the tobacco leaf.)
Portable and refillable vapes such as the JUUL aren’t a new technology. Similar devices such as blu and Vuse have occupied shelf space behind gas station counters for several years. PAX Labs, the small California-based company that produces the JUUL, didn’t anticipate such success and has been struggling to keep stores stocked. Teagan Lefey, a cashier at the Cohn’s on The Corner, says the convenience store sells roughly 20 packs of pods a night and usually runs out of stock every three or four days (customers must be 18 or older to purchase nicotine products). “Once we started carrying them,” he says, “we could barely keep them in stock.”
Since JUULs are a significantly more discrete method of getting a nicotine buzz than cigarettes, they have exploded in schools across the country (vaping and JUULing top the “risky behaviors” list from two area high school newspaper editors on page 15). Teens interviewed for this article said although they JUUL, they didn’t want to talk on the record about the product. A local high school teacher told C-VILLE she has seen a fair amount of JUULs confiscated in the classroom and describes the JUUL phenomenon like a meme of sorts, a popular in-joke among students.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes clear on its website that “youth use of tobacco in any form is unsafe,” and while cigarette use among teens has dropped, e-cigarette use—vaping—is rising. According to data released by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that e-cigarette use among teens tripled between 2013 and 2014, while teen tobacco use has significantly decreased, dropping from 15.8 percent of high school students in 2011 to 8 percent in 2016.