Henry Korman is exactly who Juul wants using its e-cigarettes. He’s not a teen, and he’s a former smoker, so he thought substituting a vape for cigarettes was a healthy decision when he switched two years ago. But then, he wanted to quit the Juul, too. He tried multiple times, cold turkey, to no avail. The Juul addiction stuck around, at least until he found sugar snap peas.
“I carry around this big bag of sugar snap peas to keep me occupied and replace the Juul,” he says. “I used to say ‘phone, keys, wallet, Juul’ — that’s what I needed to have before I left the house. But now it’s ‘phone, keys, wallet, peas.’”
Korman’s not alone in trying to kick his Juul habit. What started as a way for some people to wean themselves off cigarettes has turned into a new kind of addiction made worse by the ability to vape just about anywhere. In other cases, people who started vaping just because the Juul was around have developed new nicotine habits. For both types of users, quitting has proven immensely difficult.
Korman says he’s been eating a pound of sugar snap peas a week instead of reaching for his Juul. He decided to quit last month because the habit was costing him around $8 a day, the price of a single Juul pod. He also went on a health kick and realized he changed his diet and exercise habits, but still held onto his electronic nicotine stick.
The real motivation, though, came after recent reports about a mysterious severe lung disease linked to vaping. “You’re saying I’m going to be broke and dead?,” he asks. “No thank you.”
While vaping was initially positioned as a smoking cessation tool, it’s increasingly being cast in a darker light. A mysterious lung disease has killed at least six people in the US with more than 450 cases reported, and officials believe it’s linked to vaping — though the exact cause is still unknown. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked anyone who uses a vape to stop while they investigate, and the American Lung Association did the same. Senator Mitt Romney has asked the Food and Drug Administration to recall e-cigarettes, and President Donald Trump called this week for a ban on all flavored e-cigarette pods. Meanwhile, Juul is under investigation for marketing to minors and positioning its devices as a healthier alternative to cigarettes without FDA approval. Juul’s own CEO told non-cigarette smokers to not use his company’s products. “Don’t vape,” he said. We reached out to Juul for this report and did not immediately hear back.
This message has reached the vapers. There’s been a significant uptick in the amount of discussion on social media about quitting Juuls and other vapes, according to data from Sprout Social, a company that monitors social media trends. Between August 11th and September 9th, there were more than 60,000 Twitter mentions about quitting or stopping the use of Juuls or vapes, compared to only 16,000 at the same time last year. The data shows a noticeable spike in people tweeting about quitting vaping in late August, around August 26th, a few days after the first person died of the lung disease. The spike in Juul users tweeting about quitting started on September 1st, the same day The New York Times published a story that called the lung disease an “epidemic.”
damn my whole crew quitting the juul this is the new trend
— former juuler (@cla666ire) September 7, 2019
Shannon Dunlop is one of the people who recently quit. She started vaping because her partner kept a Juul in their bedroom. He used it before bed, and she tried it, only to get hooked. She used it for six months or so and then began Juuling in her work’s bathroom.
“I was triggered,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that I got so addicted to something that never even really called to me in the first place.”
Dunlop tried quitting by hiding her two Juuls in a drawer and not buying pod refills. That didn’t always work because sometimes she just bought more pods. Instead, her addiction broke when she went for a jog one day and her chest started hurting. She thought her Juul habit might be to blame.
“Quit the Juul now I’m just addicted to nicotine gum” -Confucius (551 B.C)
— lil tweet (@harrise1117) September 9, 2019
“I was like, ‘I hate this thing,’” she said. “Maybe I am out of shape, but whatever, fuck the Juul.”
When she got home, she grabbed the Juuls out of her stash, turned on the sink, and drenched them in water. She posted the whole ordeal on Instagram Stories, ending the video by tossing a Juul in the trash.
“I took this huge stance and told my friends what I had done, so I felt like if I bought [more] pods, I’d just be a fucking idiot,” she says.
quitting juul be like: i have eaten 3 bags of werthers in the past 32 hours
— WEES @COMMS OPEN (@weeskunkz) August 25, 2019
The Juul, once a trendy meme, is now a menace. At its peak of coolness, and before everyone realized how unamusing this addiction would become, BuzzFeed published a story of vape memes called “24 tweets about Juul’s that only teens will find funny.” Vice tried to figure out Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner’s favorite Juul pod flavor. The New York Times published a piece about 2017, the year it points to as kicking off the “Juul wave,” saying that Juuls had become “Too Cool.” The rate of high school students vaping increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to the FDA and CDC.
“What resonates with our generation is the memes,” one teen told the Times. “I haven’t seen the Juul on TV. But you’ll see a bunch of memes about Juuling. It’s just, like, making it more socially acceptable — it’s perpetuating the thing that vaping is cool.”
But Juul has lost its cultural cachet. The lung disease news seems to be the main catalyst for the shift to quitting, and Juul users are turning to the usual nicotine-quitting recommendations that have helped people stop using cigarettes for decades.
Vapers say they’ve tried nicotine gum, patches, or pouches to taper their use, or try to replace their oral fixation with things like toothpicks. Some have looked into using essential oils or CBD to stop cravings. Others go to more extreme lengths, tossing their Juul into the ocean, out car windows, and into dumpsters.
I just threw my juul out the window at work, im quitting it
— Vann ⁶ (@anthony_vann3) August 23, 2019
To indicate how dramatic my friends are, Erin just recorded herself throwing her Juul into a street garbage bin to tell me that she’s quitting
— sarae (@honkytonky_) July 24, 2019
Froste, a Twitch streamer associated with 100 Thieves, says he just recently quit the Juul after hearing about all the health risks associated with vaping. He started because he was hooked on cigarettes, but he says vaping took a dark turn when people started using them anywhere, unlike a cigarette.
“You can hit it anywhere you want,” Froste says. “Wherever — a restaurant, a car, anywhere, even on a plane.”
He says he quit cold turkey nine days ago after tapering his use, but now finds himself hungry all the time and needing water. He also has physical withdrawal symptoms, like a headache, cough, and sore throat.
“Yeah, it kind of sucks, but it’s not like I would rather go back to Juuling,” he says. “They’re honestly one of the dumbest things that have become popular and cool with young kids.”
If you or anyone you know is trying to quit vaping, the National Cancer Institute has an online resource available for teens. They also have more information about e-cigarettes for adults.