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Juul vape: What is it, why are teens addicted, and is it safe?

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Eva Hambach / AFP/Getty Images

Vaping has become one of the biggest public health issues of our time, and at the center of it is San Francisco-based e-cigarette company Juul. While there are many nicotine vapes on the market, Juul has gained popularity (especially among teenagers) for its sleek design and easy-to-use pods. Even after the company was forced to shutter its social media presence while the FDA investigated concerns that Juul was promoting underage use of tobacco products, Juul continues to prove popular with rising sales and affectionate nicknames, such as the “iPhone of vaporizers.”

But what is a Juul, and is it safe to use one? Here’s everything you need to know about Juul, including what’s in the e-juice, the long-term health effects and how Juul compares to regular cigarettes.

Read more: How to quit Juuling, according to addiction experts

What is Juul?

Juul is like many other e-cigarettes, but with a couple of caveats that set it apart. First, this vape is sleek and hardly noticeable: Its USB-drive design can be enclosed in the palm of a hand, and it doesn’t produce a massive plume of vapor like some other e-cigarettes. Second, the nicotine content in its cartridges, or “pods,” set a new precedent for the e-cigarette market.

E-cigarettes work by converting liquid nicotine into a vapor that the user inhales. They’re battery-operated and intend to provide a similar stimulus to that of smoking regular cigarettes.

Vaping Increases Among Teens

Juul is small and discreet

Portland Press Herald/Getty

Developed by two former smokers, Juul’s mission is to “improve the lives of 1 billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes.” One way the company encourages the switch from cigarettes to Juul is with its Juul calculator, where people can estimate how much money they’d save if they used a Juul instead.

Read more: Secondhand vaping: The latest vaping health risk

Juul vs. other e-cigarettes: What’s the difference?

Juul’s high nicotine content used to be an anomaly in the e-cigarette market, but now researchers note it seems to be the rule. After Juul’s surge in popularity, other e-cigarette manufacturers began bumping up the nicotine content in their products.

Juul uses a closed system, which means users can’t refill the pods themselves, a helpful factor for quality control.  Some e-cigarettes, such as the Suorin Drop, use open systems that allow users to refill the vape themselves with bottles of e-liquid or e-juice.

Juul’s small size, compact design and minimal plume make it more discreet than many other brands. With no buttons or switches — just disposable, snap-on cartridges — Juul is simple, and its built-in temperature regulation prevents you from experiencing a “dry hit.” Dry hits occur when vape cartridges get too low on liquid or when they overheat, producing a burnt taste and throat irritation.

The Juul vaping system in Washington, DC.

The Juul e-cigarette uses closed cartridges of “juice.”

The Washington Post/Getty

What are the main ingredients in Juul pods?

The Juul comprises two parts. There’s the e-cigarette itself, which contains the battery, temperature regulator and sensors that read the charge level. Then there’s the pod, which contains Juul’s patented e-liquid formula. A mixture of nicotine salts, glycerol, propylene glycol, benzoic acid and flavorings.

  • Glycerol serves as a humectant, which means it adds moisture to the solution. Glycerol is classified as “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, so it’s approved for consumption.
  • Propylene glycol is a synthetic compound commonly used in polyester production, but it’s also approved as an additive for food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.
  • Benzoic acid occurs naturally in many plants, but its synthetic form is also widely used as a food additive and preservative. It’s “generally recognized as safe” for those uses, but can be an environmental and health hazard in large quantities.
  • Flavorings is an ambiguous term, but most often refers to various natural and synthetic ingredients that companies use to flavor their products. For example, Juul doesn’t specify what’s in its mint-flavored pod, but it probably contains peppermint extract or oil. 

The nicotine salts in Juul vape juice are a type of nicotine that supposedly feels more like a cigarette when inhaled, as opposed to other vapes that use freebase nicotine. Freebase nicotine, which can cause coughing and leave a film in people’s throats, is harsher and commonly found in cigars.

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