I Dream in Mango: Wesleyan and the Juul

Rafael Goldstein

Charlie Schine

Charlie Schine

Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen someone Juul at Wesleyan. At a party, in a dorm, on Foss, eating in Usdan, studying in Olin, walking to class, walking from class, or even in class, you are likely to come across someone Juuling.

For those who are not familiar with the Juul vaporizer, it looks like a USB device (because it is), smells like an air freshener, and uses nicotine salts to produce a sensation that closely resembles smoking a cigarette. A pod, which contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, comes in five different flavors: mango, cool mint, fruit medley, creme brulee, and virginia tobacco. The Juul has been dubbed the “Apple of vaping” due to its sleek appearance and user-friendly convenience. As long as the Juul is charged, it takes seconds for a user to hit. There’s no smell and no stress, but Juuls still give the head rush many are looking for.

The creators of the Juul intended it to be a healthier substitute for cigarettes. Tyler Goldman, CEO of PAX (inventor of the Juul), writes on his website, “Over one billion people in the world smoke. Almost all are looking for a better solution.” The bottom of the Juul homepage reads, “A REAL ALTERNATIVE TO CIGARETTES.”

Today, Juuls are everywhere. As the JUUL website says,  “JUUL is the fastest-growing electronic smoking device in the U.S. convenience store channel, having grown 94% this year according to IRI.” Additionally, in 2016 Juul out-indexed industry growth in the e-cigarette category by 600%. So how’d they catch on so quickly? What’s so great about them? And why do people love the mango flavor so much?

I still remember the first time I saw a Juul. Last year, during the first semester of my senior year of high school, I walked in on a kid in the bathroom puffing a cloud of smoke. I wasn’t surprised; I had seen kids with vapes and other e-cigarettes in school. But this was different. I couldn’t see what was in his hand because it was so small. And it barely even smelled. By the winter, Juuls had pervaded entire friend groups. Even the first years had Juuls, despite the fact that they were far too young to legally purchase one.

What is so intriguing about Juuls is how quickly they have proliferated around Wesleyan. A year ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a Juul. But now, they are everywhere. And the students who Juul don’t just Juul. They Juul a lot. I interviewed students at Wesleyan to get a better insight into how the Juul impacts Campus culture.

(All names have been changed to protect the identities of Campus Juulers.)

I heard about a first year named Jeff who is notorious for his Juuling. Jeff tells me that it takes him half a day to go through a pod and that he has not gone a single day since coming to Wesleyan without Juuling. This means that Jeff has used over 90 pods since the beginning of September, which is equivalent to the amount of nicotine in 90 packs of cigarettes and costs over $330, all in less than two months.

Jeff is not alone. One night in SciLi, I ask two student-athletes about their Juuling habits.

“How often do you Juul?” I ask one of the friends, Lamar.

“I started Juuling last February and haven’t gone a day since,” he answers.

Later, I ask Lamar’s friend, Adam, when the last time was that he went more than a day without Juuling.

“Do I have to answer all of these?” Adam replies.

I tell him he doesn’t, but he continues anyway, “I don’t think I have. Not since I started.” Adam first started Juuling last December.

Many students I interviewed first heard of the Juul from a friend. One student remembers trying the Juul at a party last November. He didn’t like it. Now he goes through a pod every day and a half.

Courtney and Jordan are both first years who enjoy Juuling. Jordan first used a Juul when her friend, who had a Juul of her own, visited for her prom. Jordan adds, “I ripped it, but I wouldn’t inhale it because it hurt, so I would just, like, put it in my mouth and then blow it out and be like, ‘yeahhhh.’”

Not everyone learned about the Juul from their friends. Courtney got hooked on the Juul because her cousin, who would even use it during family dinners, bought her one as a going away present for college. Courtney admits, “It’s probably not good how much I use it. I should stop.”

So who Juuls? The Juul is certainly not confined to one demographic. But, what I have found from asking friends who attend other colleges around the country is that the more white, the more preppy, and the more fratty the student body, the more Juuls there will be. A student at CU Boulder—notorious for its frats—tells me, “People have even gone as far as attaching their Juul to their wrist,” for fear of losing it.

I take a walk down to Main St to Smoke 911, where many students buy Juulpods, to ask about recent Juul trends. Mike, the owner, says the Juul is his bestseller. He adds that recently, “Everybody comes to buy Juuls[...]much more than other e-cigarettes.” He continues, “Not just Wesleyan students [buy Juuls]. Everybody buys [them]. My dad smokes Juul. My mom smokes Juul.”

On another day I ask a few friends sitting together—Pierre, Santiago, and Noah—why they Juul.

“I do it for the headrush,” Noah ‘19 replies. Noah opens his mouth as if he intends to list more reasons, but doesn’t.

“For the headrush, as a de-stressor, and its convenience,” Santiago, another junior, comments.

Noah then remembers his second reason: “It makes being drunk more fun.”

The other two boys smile.

“Serves as a good study tool,” Pierre ‘18 adds.

Santiago animatedly agrees, “A great study tool.”

On a different occasion, another student tells me, “I lowkey kinda like how it hurts my throat.”

Fatima, another first year, says she started to Juul because all her friends Juul and she “felt peer pressured.” Fatima continues, “But it’s really fun, so now I’m addicted.” Others picked up the Juul as a substitute for alternative nicotine-heavy substances that they believe are more unhealthy. One student Juuls to kick his chewing tobacco addiction. Another one wants to smoke cigarettes less.

Goldman believes the Juul is giving people a healthier alternative to their nicotine addiction. However, he might be disappointed to hear that many younger people are having their first experiences with nicotine through a Juul. Charlie Vogel ‘21 has his own thoughts on how the Juul has spread so quickly: “Juul has done an expert job at marketing it in a way that does not evoke cigarette or vape culture. If you look at their website, it’s not called JUUL vape, it’s called JUUL vapor. There aren’t pictures of clouds, or people smoking—things that you would typically see on a vape website. There are actual pictures of mangoes! With colors, flavors, and the sleek look of the Juul itself, many people don’t think about the nicotine. It’s almost like candy. Mango, fruit, creme brulee? It all looks so innocent.”

Charlie’s point is supported by what several other students related. I ask a few other Juulers why they use the Juul as opposed to a different e-cigarette.

“Because it’s not as bad for you,” one sophomore girl, Gabrielle, responds. Gabrielle then pauses, thinks to herself for a second, and laughs.  “That’s me hoping it’s not that bad for you.”

“It’s small,” answers a junior.

“I didn’t do any research on e-cigarettes or vapes before I got my Juul. This is the one I knew about so I got it,” replies Vanessa, a senior.

Vanessa is not alone. Most students, when asked the same question, tell me they have never tried or even seen a different type of e-cigarette. One avid Juuler did not even know a Juul was an e-cigarette.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of the Juul is that—because it’s so new—we have relatively no idea of its long term effects on the body. Let’s not forget in the early- to mid-20th century, even doctors endorsed cigarettes. People are Juuling en masse, without the scientific evidence to prove it is safe.

In fact, there is some evidence to suggest Juuls are harmful. A Juulpod contains Propylene Glycol, which is the same chemical used in antifreeze. Studies have shown that the presence of Propylene Glycol can form Formaldehyde during the e-cigarette vaping process. Formaldehyde has been labeled as a highly toxic poison by the ATSDR.

But are Wesleyan students concerned?

I ask several students Juuling together one night in Westco if they have considered the potential side effects of Juuling, and if they ever wonder if it’s actually worse than cigarettes.

“I actually think it is worse than cigs. And I’m fine with it because I’ve developed a nicotine addiction,” one student answers.

“With an abundance of carcinogens in our society, the least of our problems is a Juul. If you look around, we have no fucking clue about our existence here right now, and we don’t know what the fuck is going to happen in the future[…]if it gives you pleasure, I think fuck it,” Yasiel, a first year, replies.

His friend JJ agrees; “If you’re enjoying something, then just live in the moment. Like, so many people die from car crashes. But we still keep driving cars.”

Many students appear to have similar mindsets to JJ and Yasiel. Another day, a junior tells me, “There are so many terrible things I do to my body in college. It’s definitely in the back of my mind. But, I’m sleep deprived—there are studies that shows that’s fucked. I drink alcohol—that’s fucked.” He looks at me and laughs. “I’m in college, dude.”

It appears that Wesleyan students are aware of the potential harmful effects of the Juul. Nevertheless, the Juul trend appears to be on the rise.

Liz Mitts ‘18 asserts she’s “never seen something quite like the Juul hit Wesleyan.” She continues, “when I got here it was all cigarettes. But last year I started seeing a lot more Juuls.” Aside from the Juul, she has barely seen any other kind of e-cigarette.

Juuls started off as an apparatus a few kids used to get a head rush at parties. In less than a year, they have turned into an e-cigarette you can’t run away from. We may have not seen a rush towards a nicotine-infused product as large as this one since the cigarette.

Some students came to Wesleyan having never heard of a Juul, but when they go home for break many will bring their Juuls with them. They’ll show their friends, who will show friends of their own. How many other college campuses are covered with Juuls? And if they’re not now, how about after winter break?

For the creators of Juul, the future is bright. For the country and its nicotine addiction? It’s a bit more cloudy.