Will lifts the small black device to his face, drawing a deep breath from its hollow tip as he stares off into the crowded room. It’s smooth metal shell glistens in the flashing lights that blink in unison with a pounding subwoofer in the opposite corner. He exhales, releasing a large white cloud and sending a metallic scent of mangoes into the air. His eyes glaze over with relief.
“You gotta love these things, man,” he takes another puff.
Will is a proud owner of a Juul, a small electric cigarette that has taken St. Lawrence University by storm. Powered by a small USB charger that plugs into a laptop, the Juul is noiseless, odorless, and perfect for life on a college campus.
“I puff it all day,” brags Will. “It just feels so good, you can even get away with using it in class.”
At about three inches in length, the Juul’s smooth metal case houses a battery that heats a liquid nicotine solution, turning it into a vapor that is then inhaled. The solution comes in small replaceable cartridges, or pods. Lacking any sort of button, switch or dial, the Juul is incredibly simple to use. As the owner takes a puff from the end of the device, the battery turns on, drawing liquid from the bottom of the pod and creating a large, aromatic cloud. Once a pod is empty, users simply throw it out and click a new one into the top of the device.
“You can see the clouds everywhere on campus,” Will chuckles as he hands his Juul to two passing friends in search of a quick puff before diving back into the undulating crowd.
From social gatherings to study carrels in the library, it is easy to spot these large white plumes erupting from the mouths of puffers. The Juuls have spiked in popularity over the past few months with more and more appearing every week. Pax, the manufacturer of the Juul, claims that its sales have grown nearly 200 percent over the past two years.
“Everyone and their mother has one,” jokes Maggie, another Juul owner and a senior at St. Lawrence. “It’s actually crazy. They’re everywhere.” She too has noticed the sharp increase in the Juul’s presence on campus. “I only knew one or two kids that had them at the beginning of the year, and I got mine in January. They’ve definitely grown in popularity though.”
Maggie keeps multiple pods with her everywhere she goes. “I started smoking cigarettes my freshman year of high school,” she admits. Until she found out about the Juul, Maggie relied on keeping a pack of smokes in her purse. “I’m definitely not proud of it now.”
Once Juuls began to make their way to St. Lawrence, she was quick to order one for herself. “The Juul is way better. No smell, no butts, lighters or anything like that. Just the nicotine.”
But beyond the high nicotine content and user-friendly benefits, the Juul comes with a price. Each pod contains 0.7 milliliters of liquid with five percent nicotine content by weight. This equates to 200 Juul puffs, or an entire pack of cigarettes.
“I know kids who go through a pod a day,” admits Will. He makes his way against a current of drunken partygoers streaming towards the dance floor through a narrow hallway. Stepping out into the driveway, he removes his Juul from his pocket. “These things are turning kids into pack-a-day smokers.”
In terms of nicotine consumption, some of St. Lawrence’s Juul owners are taking in as many as twenty cigarettes a day. At a school that doesn’t have too many smokers, this is an extremely high increase in nicotine dependence.
“It’s gotten to the point where kids are buying pods off Juul’s website and reselling them for a profit,” says Will. He stares off towards the house where several circles of students huddle, some with cigarettes, but most with Juuls, passing, puffing, and laughing under the milky billows of vapor that rise into the night sky.
At four dollars per unit, pods are quite cheap compared to their tobacco-infused alternatives, especially for a product that users will purchase repeatedly. But some students have caught wind of this fact, and utilized it for their own benefit.
“I’ve heard of kids paying ten bucks for a single pod, it’s wild! That’s over double the normal price,” says Will. Many students are fully willing to spend extra to find another pod once they run out of the coveted nicotine solution. As long as they can find an instant resupply, they’ll pay top dollar. “Kids are just so addicted that they have no problem with it.” This black market for Juul pods has only grown over the course of the spring semester as more and more of the vaporizers appeared on campus.
But, according to Maggie, the Juul’s popularity spreads much wider than college campuses. “I do know they’re popular in boarding schools as well, my sister’s friends all have them,” she claims. Many private schools have extremely strict policies on contraband. These institutions are very serious about keeping their campuses drug and alcohol free. “Juuls are so low-key, it’s an easy way for high-schoolers to catch a buzz. I mean, I use mine in my room, in the library, even in class. It would be so easy to hide one at a boarding school.” In addition to teenagers and millennials, adults also enjoy the Juul’s instantaneous nicotine supply.
“I know his dad has one,” Will points at another partygoer standing in the driveway. “He puffs on it all the time at their house.”
Will takes another puff of his Juul. He lets out a white plume and a small red light blinks on from the vaporizer’s metal casing. “Ah, shit. Looks like my pod’s empty,” he pats his pocket for another cartridge. “I’m gonna run inside and see if I can bum one. I’ll see you later, man.”
He pockets the Juul and disappears back into the flashing haze of the house.