Is JUUL Bad For You?

By Dr. Annie Macpherson
Updated: 2019-09-17

Introduction

E-cigarettes are small devices that vaporise e-liquid for the user to inhale. E-cigarettes provide nicotine, without the carcinogenic compounds and toxic effects commonly associated with tobacco smoke. JUUL is a brand, and type, of e-cigarette.

Experts believe that vaping doesn’t have any substantial short-term effects on your health, and is far safer than smoking.

In this article,

  • We’ll discuss what a JUUL is, and why JUUL might be more dangerous than other e-cigarettes.

What is a JUUL, and Why is it Different?

Some of the things that make JUUL different from conventional e-cigarettes are:

Size

  • JUUL devices are small and light, which makes them attractive compared to bulkier e-cigarettes. They are often considered more attractive in design – they are USB rechargeable. People like JUUL due to their useability and discrete vaping experience.

Nicotine salts

  • JUUL devices use nicotine salts, a different substance to nicotine found in standard e-cigarettes. Nicotine salts are the same nicotine compound that is found in tobacco leaves.

    Nicotine salts provide a stronger, faster hit of nicotine, more akin to the nicotine delivery of smoking. This allows JUUL devices to provide greater satisfaction than conventional e-cigarette devices – a great solution for heavy smokers.

Replaceable pods

  • Instead of a refillable e-liquid chamber, JUUL devices use a disposable cartridge known as a ‘pod’. JUUL pods are more expensive, but less likely to leak than refillable e-liquid, and more simple to load.

Could Using a JUUL be Harmful?

The compounds inside JUUL pods do not appear more or less dangerous than standard e-cigarettes, and you can read more about the dangerous effects of e-cigarettes in our article

here.

So, how could using a JUUL be more dangerous than other e-cigarette devices?

High Nicotine, Harder To Quit

  • Compared to other e-cigarettes, JUUL devices are very high in nicotine. In the US, JUUL pods contain 3-5% nicotine. Due to UK regulations, JUUL pods available in the UK are only 1.7% nicotine. 

    This means JUUL devices are exceptionally addictive. Vaping high nicotine will increase your dependence, making you more likely to return to tobacco if you are caught short.

No nicotine-free options available

  • Vapers often lower the nicotine levels they vape to reduce their dependence and successfully quit smoking, just like you would with nicotine gum and patches

    JUUL offer no low nicotine or nicotine-free options to cut down dependence, meaning they are not easy to quit, and you are likely to use them long-term.

Encouraging long-term use

  • Currently, the most common reason people vape is to help nicotine withdrawal symptoms as they quit smoking [2]. The side effects of vaping short-term like this are mild, and the risk of unknown effects is low.

JUUL currently markets devices as a lifestyle choice and ‘viable alternative to tobacco’, normalising their long-term use [3]. Researchers have almost no understanding of the dangers of long-term vaping, but we do know it’s likely to affect your health in a negative way. In other circumstances, long-term exposure to propylene glycol (the base used in JUUL pods) causes asthma in children, and affects lung function in adults [4] ,[5].

What could be Harmful About JUUL’s Marketing?

We know that the components of JUUL do not differ from other pod-vaping devices, but, there are legitimate health concerns around JUUL products, due to their controversial marketing strategies.

Encouraging nicotine dependence

  • Offering high-nicotine pods only suggests JUUL are not committed to helping individuals stop smoking, instead, aiming to retain users on their products. This is in contrast to almost all other e-cigarette brands, who aim to liberate individuals from nicotine dependence, or to perhaps offer a non-addictive vaping experience.

Targeting young adults and minors

  • Until late 2018, JUUL’s marketing was mostly targeting young people. The success of their campaigns resulted in a viral uptake of the device amongst young people and minors [6][7]
    [8], [9]

    Nicotine is damaging to the developing brains of teenagers [10]

    Added to this, young adults who use electronic cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking tobacco than their peers [11]

    The high nicotine content of JUUL, combined with their aggressive marketing to young people, suggests a company that has little interest in the health of its consumers.

Destabilising public opinion on vaping

  • Although the FDA currently considers e-cigarettes as beneficial to people quitting smoking, this is a fragile opinion that could quickly be destabilised. 

    JUUL’s marketing approaches are not going unnoticed – youth uptake has caused stricter regulations on vaping, and shifts in public opinion. Instead of an innovative way to help people quit smoking, e-cigarettes could be judged as a device to render a new generation addicted to nicotine.

FDA intervention was required

  • In an attempt to address JUUL’s controversial, violative marketing to minors, and the volumes of teenagers using JUUL, the FDA issued 56 warning letters and several fines to JUUL retailers, with little effect on their marketing approach [12]

    Subsequently, in late 2018, the FDA releasing a public warning highlighting JUUL’s role in the youth epidemic use of e-cigarettes, quoted as ‘the largest ever initiative against violative sales… in history [12].

Following this warning, JUUL has changed it’s marketing approach, to more appropriately target heavy smokers. 

Conclusion

 

JUUL devices are considered safer than smoking cigarettes, and their useability and strong marketing approaches have led to JUUL dominating 76% of the U.S. e-cigarette market [13].

However, critics claim they are introducing a new generation to nicotine. The extent of action required from the FDA before impacting JUUL should be heeded as a warning sign. We must question how JUUL respond.

For example,

  1. When new research redefines the safety of the currently poorly understood health effects of e-cigarette flavourings.

  2. JUUL tread closely to a culture of highly addictive and irresponsibly marketed products.

We have seen the devastating effects of this business approach before – you need only look at the rise and fall of tobacco.

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Dr. Annie Macpherson
Dr. Annie Macpherson

Annie has a PhD in Genome Stability from the University of Sussex. She has first-hand experience in cancer and human disease research. This allows her to provide us with new and unbiased insights into the ongoing research of the public and health effects of vaping. She loves an adventure, and has travelled through South East Asia and Australia working for Vaping Insider.