October 23, 2018

JEONG | Juul Season is Over

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In January, I wrote a column for the Sun called “The Juul Manifesto.” It was supposed to be a throwaway column — a tongue-in-cheek piece written mostly for all my friends who had recently bought the now-omnipresent e-cigarette from the 7-Eleven in Collegetown. The article garnered me my 15 minutes of fame when I was contacted and quoted by Jia Tolentino, a staff writer for The New Yorker. We talked for over an hour about how the Juul is a uniquely millennial product — an apt symbol that captures our generation’s postmodernist irreverence toward health and ironic embrace of the absurd on social media. Her article, “The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul,” was received with great fanfare among my Facebook friends, consternation from my high school English teacher (I’m sorry Ms. Miller) and unadulterated chagrin from my parents.

It’s been fun to pontificate the cultural significance and implications of the Juul, but no analysis or criticism of our collective fervor for the Juul will ever be as compelling as the fact that we have all become addicted to nicotine. After nearly a year since publishing “The Juul Manifesto,” I wish to call upon all my Juul-loving readers and newly christened nicotine addicts, as it is time we address the Juul as what it is: the public health crisis of our generation. It has bred a new breed of addiction — one that can be hidden in our back pockets and easily fixed in middle school bathroom stalls.

Over the past year, Juul has transformed from just another San Francisco startup to a company that is almost as ubiquitous as its Silicon Valley peers. Like Google or Twitter, Juul has ascended from a brand to a mainstream verb. Seven hundred and sixty one million dollars in funding and a valuation of $15 billion later, the novelty of Juul has worn off, and it has gone from a frat party accessory to become an irreplaceable fixture of our daily lives. While most of my friends that bought Juuls in January bought it with the intention of using it on an occasional night out, they have become the very smoker they vowed they would never be.

This evolution has also manifested itself in very tangible and material ways within Cornell itself. Once a store reserved for buying mixers and indulging in mediocre midnight frozen yogurt, Jason’s Grocery on College Ave has become a fully-stocked Juul vendor. It is now impossible to walk into Jason’s with the sole objective a pint of Halo Top without rows and rows of mango-flavored nicotine teasing us from the moment we walk in.

In our grandparents’ day, the tobacco industry preyed on the masses through misinformation and advertising. Especially after the proliferation of medical studies that linked smoking to cancer, brands like Camel and Lucky Strike promoted their brand of cigarette with ads that touted headlines like: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” or “Physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating!’” The parallels to the Juul in 2018 are unnervingly familiar.

Nicotine, like most drugs, has very addictive properties. Unlike most drugs, we believe that ingesting nicotine through a vape is a form of health insurance; since it isn’t bad as smoking a cigarette, we subconsciously feel that we can indulge more without ramification. But like every drug, the ramification of our actions is addiction.

In our belief that e-cigarettes like the Juul are an healthier alternative, there exists a dangerous economic moral hazard, in which we end up partaking in the risky behavior far more than we would have otherwise. Juul advertises itself as an “adult smoking cessation device,” but the reality is that it has become an introduction to smoking for a younger age cohort. Being myopic and flippant about our health is a time-honored tradition for any person who was ever 20 years old. It has been so with our parents, their parents, and their parents’ parents, and will steadfastly continue on with posterity. But when our bad decisions trickle down to 12-year-old tweens who naively and perhaps innocently follow in our footsteps, it may be time to ask whether or not we are complicit in a larger societal phenomenon.

I am no psychic. It’s the reason why I quit fantasy football and why I shy away from putting all my money in Bitcoin. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we, the millennials, will look back on the Juul with more regret than we do nostalgia. So in a surprising turn of events, I, the author of the Manifesto itself, ask everybody to reconsider the implications of the Juul that is nestled in the magnetic charger on the side of your laptop. No more phlegmy coughs. No more mid-lecture Juul breaks. No more 2 a.m. walks up to 7-Eleven. Relax — it shouldn’t be too hard after a month.
Jason Jeong is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Jeongism runs every other Tuesday this semester. He can be reached at jjeong@cornellsun.com.