Why I Quit Juul
Why I Quit Juul
WORDS: JASON STEWART
The first of my friends to own “e-cigs” were usually graphic designers, programmers, or (brace yourselves) DJs. Those who fancied themselves on the cutting edge of progressive technology, while picking up a cig habit along the way. They got a thrill from the fact that they were smoking something plugged into their computer, a piece of digital hardware that connected with their bodies too. Like cocaine in the ’80s, if you asked the right person, it was actually good for you.
Back then, you’d visit a specialty vape shop somewhere on the outskirts of town to pick up your first “rig.” It felt like you were buying Magic The Gathering cards or fishing equipment for the first time, you were putting your blind trust as a future vaper in a less than convincing stranger’s hands. Always a small storefront void of decor outside of an Ikea loveseat, a giant flatscreen showing episode after episode of Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, and some glass display cases filled with colorful little gadgets. You could sample all the pen types and flavors to see what your vape style was, and in between tasting courses, a nice young man wearing a flat-brimmed cap would clean the public mouth-piece with a sanitizing wipe.
You’d buy the battery, a colorful cylinder that you’d charge from a dangling micro USB cable, the “cartridge,” a transparent glass tube you’d surgically fill with “e-juice” like a lab tech filling blood samples, and lastly, your little bottle of flavored juice, presumably distilled by hand in the bedroom of the very man selling it to me. The flavors were not only copyright infringing but tempting to children. Oreo Cookie Shake, Watermelon Sour Patch, probably a Human Breast Milk flavor for the 2-and-under-crowd. It was an unregulated gold rush, there were no rules. The possibility of taking in some of that Marlboro money while simultaneously curing lung cancer was a driving force for young entrepreneurs across the world.
You can currently visit vape shops and find all of these flavored juices, go on Reddit and exchange recipes with vape mixologists, even buy tiny jugs of pure liquid nicotine. But the public perception and optics of today’s non-Juul vape rigs don’t seem to bother our nation’s concerned adults. Juul sent me a firm-but-fair email last month, saying they’re going to stop selling all flavors of pods that are considered “flavored,” or those deemed possibly appealing to children. Obviously, Juul didn’t want to send that email, it read like a breakup letter, I actually felt bad for them. Bye-bye “Fruit Punch,” “Creme Brûlée,” “Cucumber,” and the most infamous fruity flavor of all, our nation’s beloved “Mango.” We as a country had gone too far, vaping became so popular that our children’s tiny minds weren’t able to defend themselves from, or even comprehend such an invisible force. News stories of 12-year-olds with a two pod-per-day habit being hospitalized, the phrase “popcorn lung” appeared on our aunts facebook pages, an actual epidemic as silent and misunderstood as nicotine itself was finally coming to light.
Like most people, I experienced zero side effects from vaping. I felt fine, I could do it whenever or wherever I wanted to, and other than the price tag and mounting nicotine habit, it was quite clear that vaping was better for me than tobacco. We know that cigarettes are terrible for us, we don’t exactly know how vaping is bad for us yet. It might be manageable, and it also might give us a brand new type of super disease that will wipe us out 10x worse than 2 packs a day of Raspberry-Mint Camel Crush. As much as I wanted to believe, my logical mind began somehow erring on the side of responsibility, a skill I just recently picked up. Every stopgap solution usually has a consequence, and Juul was not exempt. We’re learning now that vaping, just like gender reveals, Oxycontin, and Tesla’s autopilot feature, could have crushing side effects.
I sucked the living Christ out of my final pod last week, ceremoniously throwing it in the trash can not like a 3 pointer from downtown, but more bittersweet, like putting the last puzzle piece down and having nobody from your retirement home notice it’s completion. With Juul, you have to quit cold turkey, the temptation and ease of use is too overpowering. (there should be a vape juice flavor called cold turkey.) My Juul’s USB charger lived permanently fused to my laptop, so I never ran out of battery life, one less thing to worry about, right?
Finally, removing it felt like pulling off a wedding band after assuming your partner cheated on you, but you didn’t have substantial proof. When my Juul was charging, it looked like an aftermarket wi-fi antenna for my Macbook, a “funny trick” that quickly turned dark and “pathetic” as I simply had too much access to nicotine.
I, an intellectual and food enthusiast, was naturally drawn to the sweet smell of “movie theater carpet,” known as Juul’s “Crème brûlée.” I learned (after it was too late) that my dear crème was known as a simple-minded boomer’s flavor, shunned by 14-year-olds who love to puff Mango or Mint pods, and it’s those damned 14-year-olds who ruined Juul for all of us. The same reason we have to drink beer out of plastic cups at the ballgame, take our shoes off at the airport, or empty our NPR totes when entering the 10:35am screening of Frozen 2, is the same reason I’m now creme-free. A few rotten mangoes can spoil the whole bunch. Now that every cool and young person in America was decimating pod after pod of nicotine, making TikToks about it, all well before the legal age of 18, we began to have a problem that couldn’t be swept under the rug any longer. A suspicious parent’s nose can tell if their daughter was smoking cigs at Bryleen’s “kickback” the very second she walks through the front door. Now she’s able to ingest enough nicotine to smack Dave Chappelle cross-eyed, and you’d have no way of knowing, aside from their crippling mood swings, anxiety, and $200 a month pod habit.
On paper, vaping seemed too good to be true for those who were finally fed up with the coughing, smoke steeped socks, and yellowed teeth. The trade-off for all of those drags was the sometimes embarrassing action of publicly sucking on a vape pen, and producing shameful clouds of cap’n crunch scented fog. Before Juul, there was only one category you fit into if you vaped: Person who has a sticker on the back of their truck, either displaying the “shocker” hand symbol or a request for the driver behind them to simply “send nudes.” When Juul appeared on the market, I was weary but allured by its discretion more than anything. Juul was small enough to fit invisibly in the palm of my hand. I could cradle it like a wounded sparrow and guide it to my mouth, not to feed it a blend of regurgitated seed, but to instead slowly remove a king’s dose of nicotine. This was it! This was something tolerable, we finally don’t have to keep a shoebox in the closet labeled “vape stuff.” It was like buying your first Apple laptop after running Windows PCs your whole life. The same emphasis on design and simplicity that Jony Ive realized with Apple is what propelled Juul to the Cupertino Juugernaut that it is, or was, today. They didn’t invent the wheel, they just stopped for a minute and said “Hey, you can sell wheels that don’t make you look like a cop.”
We all had our first cigarette from peer pressure, because a hot person offered us one, or just simply to resemble Julian Casablancas more. Then we get hooked, start taking smoke breaks at 9:05am, puffing one on the way home from work, or the worst surrender of self-control, a mid-meal cig. Thanks to Juul, I could pull along with my morning matcha without leaving the breakfast nook, hot-box the Prius till I puke, even duck into the bathroom for a clandestine rip on Christmas morning. But much like the quirky observations of Louis C.K. or the perfect pairing of Chris Brown’s ability to both sing and dance, all good things must come to an end.
It wasn’t because my friends sent me articles about the dangers of vaping, or because I was embarrassed to have pods auto-shipped to my house, but just simply because I didn’t want to switch to “Virginia Tobacco” juice, or worse, “Menthol.” That action of logging into my Juul account, (a repulsive sentence to type,) deselecting Creme Brûlée, and selecting Virginia Tobacco was a bridge too far for me. It was like having a paralyzing addiction to cheeseburgers and being forced to switch from In-N-Out double-doubles to Big Macs. A slap across the face. It was time to get clean.
I was nervous about buying my pack of American Spirit lights (yellow box) from a donut shop, like I was scoring heroin from my old dealer after getting clean for 3 years. A rush of grimy adrenaline flowed through my body while peeling open the pack’s cellophane, tossing it in the blue plastic trash bin full of lottery tickets, and spent Coffee-Mate pods. I went to a friend’s housewarming party that night, a crowd full of regular Juulers. I anticipated a shockwave of dropped-jaws and “whoa, dudes,” maybe someone would drop their wine glass if I timed it right. Instead, I was greeted by two fellow ex-vapers, shyly producing a pack of their own. My descent back to cigarettes was not met with a loud bang, but more a small puff, a transition as smooth as my nicotine delivery device. I was quietly upset with myself for not only falling off the wagon but, more so, not being the first person to do it.