Run the Juuls, or why I am hooked on nicotine once again

Jon Gold - 09/19/2018 2:00 PM

Run the Juuls, or why I am hooked on nicotine once again

Jon Gold - 09/19/2018 2:00 PM
(Credit: image courtesy of blacknote)

My first impressions of the Juul e-cigarette are that I’ve been had – why on earth would you make a device that can only be charged in such-and-such an orientation, without any kind of a cable to make it less of a headache? Because it looks slick sitting on the side of a laptop, unless your laptop is USB-C only like mine is, then it looks janky and ill-conceived.


The cartridges smell exactly like every other “oh so real tobacco replacement” e-juice I’ve ever smelled, which is to say, they resemble tobacco not very much at all. The crème brulee flavor is the only other one they’ve got that sounds remotely interesting to me, and it boasts a violent butterscotch taste and not much else.


Above: my nicotine vice snubs its nose at your primitive, fire-based cigarettes.


That said, the actual experience of using this thing is pretty solid. For an auto-inhaler, it’s really responsive – earlier e-cigs with this feature had noticeable delays between you starting to inhale and actual vapor production, so it’s cool to see that it’s been made a lot more functional.


The actual vapor has me in two minds – on the one hand, the throat hit is really quite satisfying, and it really does feel like smoking a cigarette in this way. On the other, the “Virginia tobacco” cartridge tastes exactly like the old tobacco-replacement e-juices I used to vape four years ago.


Part of the reason for the throat hit is that Juul uses nicotine salts, rather than freebase nicotine, to get the drug into your bloodstream. I can’t pretend to understand the science behind it, but the upshot seems to be that it mimics the uptake profile of nicotine from cigarettes much more closely than standard e-liquid. You get a stronger nicotine buzz, and you get it more quickly.


That’s the whole idea of Juul, to be a much more direct cigarette replacement than earlier-generation e-cigs, and the company’s clearly gone to great lengths to play up the similarities – each pod is supposed to be the equivalent of a single pack of cigarettes, delivering a similar amount of nicotine with a similar number of puffs.


It’s a lot closer to what I wanted as a new cigarette quitter, all those years ago – hassle-free, functional, and as close to smoking a real cigarette as possible. The only thing missing is the persistent stink on your breath and your clothes, and, although it’s important to note that the science on e-cigarettes is still embryonic, a ton of carcinogens.


There’s a degree of moral panic around Juul – anti-smoking activist types hate it, seeing it as a gateway drug, and I don’t actually know whether the unusually strict age verification process I had to go through to order the Juul from the company’s website is a response to that or something that’s still seen as insufficient to the goal of keeping it away from kids. The anti-smoking lobby, with whom I mostly agree, has a weird hard-on for Juul in particular and vaping in general – given that the entire goal is to reduce the harms from tobacco use, isn’t something that does a pretty reasonable job of replacing tobacco completely a good thing?


No no, it’s a sinister ploy by the tobacco industry to get our kindergartners fiending for Marlboros. (And it’s a punchline for lefty Twitter, which loves to associate vaping with neckbearded online libertarians and alt-right twerps.) Of course we need more science about whether it’s harmful or not, and of course it shouldn’t be sold to kids, and of course businesses should be free to ban it on their premises if they feel like it (despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to have any serious second-hand effects), but are we really trying to crap all over one of the single best smoking cessation tools out there?


“Cessation” might be a stretch, of course, because I’m actually starting to “smoke” a lot more than I used to now that I have the Juul as an option. Why not “smoke” if there are few downsides and you don’t even have to go outside to do it? The math works out to Juul being substantially cheaper than buying cigarettes – at least here in the greater Boston area, although there are places in the world where you can buy gold bullion for less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes in Boston – but it’s still a not-inconsequential amount of money if you’re going through a pod every few days, like I am. (The company is clearly in no hurry to introduce low- or no-nicotine options. Where else have I heard of companies keeping their products full of addictive chemicals?)


Overall, I suppose I’ll have to cop to liking Juul – leaving aside the fact that the pods cost too much, and that I don’t love some of the design choices they’ve made, it’s the first e-cigarette that I’ve encountered that actually behaves like a cigarette. I haven’t had a butt since I got it, and I have no desire for one. Yet I’ll also have to admit that I’m starting to see the anti-smoking lobby’s point about these things being at least as addictive as real cigarettes. It may solve my problem of bumming Camels or Pall Malls off my buddies when we’re at, say, a Red Sox game, but it’s got me taking in more daily nicotine than I’ve had in a while.