Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an emergency executive action to ban all flavored e-cigarettes Sunday –– the latest development in the retaliation against vaping over a surge of reports linking it to pulmonary illnesses. A national ‘hysteria’ around e-cigarettes has student-activists and Cornell health professionals pushing their message: It’s not cool to Juul.
In tandem with the release of new research, local shops told The Sun that sales of e-cigarettes near campus have declined after the boom of recent years.
The Food and Drug Administration, on Monday, sent a warning letter accusing Juul Labs of illegally advertising their products as a safer alternative to tobacco products. Over the past few weeks, the CDC reported an outbreak of severe lung diseases which, as of Sept. 11, included 380 cases of illness and six deaths. The report also specified that in all of the cases, the patient reported a history of e-cigarette use or vaping.
“There’s a lot of hysteria,” Dr. Jonathan Avery, director of addiction psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, told The Sun. But, he said, “your average Juuler is not going to die tomorrow from lung disease.”
Avery said that doctors are still trying to “get a sense” for the harm and health effects potentially caused by Juul products. He paralleled the situation to the medical field 50 years ago, when smoking was perceived as ‘fun’ and ‘harmless’ –– until proven otherwise.
In Fall 2018, 25 percent of Cornell undergraduates reported using e-cigarettes in their lifetime, up from 14 percent in the Fall of 2015, according to Cornell Health. Additionally, 10 percent of all first year students in Fall 2018 reported using an e-cigarette in the two weeks leading up to move-in.
Avery attributes such a sudden rise in use mostly social factors.
“The advertisements looked cool and sexy,” he said. The “games and culture around going out” also supported the rise of Juul and other e-cigarettes, he added.
He also said how the recent reports surrounding vaping-related illnesses should curb drug usage: “We know that as perceived harm of a substance goes up, the use goes down, and visa versa.”
Data from Collegetown vendors seems to support this idea: Juul sales are down this semester –– significantly.
At the Collegetown 7/11, owner Ravi Meel provided The Sun with data on the 24/7 store’s sales of e-cigarettes. In April 2019, total e-cigarette sales per day averaged $659; climbing to $802 in May 2019. This same figure in September 2019 fell to $557. In May 2019, there were 46 average unit sales per day at the location, falling to 29 units in September 2019.
Out of all brands that Meel sells, “Juul is number one,” he said. He’s seen the brand’s sales dip for the beginning of the school year.
“The bloom is off the rose,” said Jason Burnham, owner of Jason’s Grocery & Deli in Collegetown. “We got [Juul products] in January of 2018. The excitement was really there,” he said.
But while sales remained high, the excitement around Juul products slowly faded starting in spring 2019. This fall, Burnham said that sales started dipping and the excitement students had for buying the products “died.”
For example, Jason’s ran a contest in late Spring 2019 to win a special limited-edition Juul product, the Onyx Juul. Customers could write on slips of paper the reasons why they thought they deserved the product. Burnham doubted that type of contest would work now.
“I’m seeing more people trying to quit,” he said. “You never saw that before.”
Regardless of the decline in sales, Cornell Health is concerned about student usage of Juuls on campus. “There’s no doubt these products are highly addictive … the amount of nicotine in the devices is no joke. Dependency is not uncommon,” said Laura Santacrose, assistant director of the Cornell Health’s Skorton Center for Health Initiatives.
First year students who are 21 or older looking to buy a Juul don’t need to travel far. Louie’s Lunch, the popular late-night food truck, sells Juul products right on North Campus — a practice that Santacrose questioned.
“Louie’s Lunch is privately owned and located in place where the majority of residents are unable to legally purchase these products, so the presence of these items in their inventory raises concern,” she said.
Owner Evin Munson said that while the truck does sell Juuls, it cards every customer looking to purchase e-cigarettes
“I just follow the rules and regulations that are in place at the time,” Munson, who took over Louie’s in January, told The Sun. The truck no longer sells fruit-flavored pods; the only varieties available are mint, menthol and tobacco.
Even that selection may change soon, thanks to the new regulations.
On Wednesday the Trump Administration announced its intent to ban flavored e-cigarettes through the FDA. In response, Governor Cuomo stated on Sunday that he is pursuing a similar ban in New York State — effective as early as October 4 — through emergency order.
The New York ban will affect all flavors besides tobacco and menthol, the Wall Street Journal reports. On the federal level, the potential ban would include menthol — not considered a flavor by the New York State ban — and mint,the New York Times reports. If both are enacted, tobacco would likely be the only flavor for sale.
This closes what Jack Waxman ’22, founder of Cornell’s Students Against Nicotine called the “flavor loophole” –– flavored cigarettes have been banned nationwide since 2009, while flavored e-cigarettes were not.
“The flavors are drawing the kids in, the nicotine is forcing them to stay,” Waxman said.
Waxman told the Sun how he watched his closest friends at his New York high school become hooked on nicotine from Juuling, a problem that he said followed them to college.
Closing the flavor loophole may not end the problem of Juul use amongst young adults, however. Avery, the Weill addiction specialist, said that though it is part of the problem, a multitude of circumstances draw teens into using Juuls and other e-cigarettes.
“What’s happening is you’re having middle school and high school kids that are addicted to the Juul coming to college, and, you know, they’re bringing their addiction with them — it doesn’t just magically disappear when you go to college,” Waxman said.
Cornell Health officials have also taken action against Juuling on campus, partly through a poster campaign.
The posters are intended to be comical; depicting a sketched graphic of a Juul talking to other common electronics. “Humor helps us retain information,” said Jenifer Austin, director of communications at Cornell Health.
Milo Gringlas ’22, the former legislative advocate for Students Against Nicotine, spent last Tuesday on Capitol Hill as part of the American Cancer Society’s annual leadership summit, where Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar “engaged with us.” Gringlas would like to think that SAN’s efforts partially translated into this week’s proposed regulation.
As a relatively new phenomenon, there is little research on long term health effects of vaping. But Avery bets that “odds are it’s going to be more harmful than good.”
Santacrose said that students who use tobacco or e-cigarettes and are interested in quitting can make an appointment with Cornell Health’s behavioral health department. The department offers students a free “quit kit,” and Cornell Health sells nicotine replacement products as well.