According to the Director of the University Health Center, nicotine is more addictive than heroine, cocaine and alcohol. 

Cigarette use is down in the U.S., but a trendy form of nicotine ingestion has been sweeping college students, high schoolers and teens across the nation. JUULs — the brand name of these compact e-cigarettes — can be responsible for younger individuals becoming hooked on nicotine. 

Blamed for public backlash over teenage vaping, the sleek device has become so widespread, that the action has turned into a verb. As JUULing has grown in popularity, so has its reputation for being “better for you” than actual cigarettes. But JUULs were introduced to the market in 2015 and there’s not enough medical data yet to determine long-term effects. 

“Let’s be clear, this product is meant to vaporize a poison — specifically nicotine — so individuals can inhale it into their bodies,” Dr. Andrew Guertler, medical director of the University Health Center, said. “The amount of nicotine in one e-cigarette cartridge is equal to the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes.”

On Oct. 29, the Student Government Association held an informational session as part of its yearly “Today I Learned” series with an open panel for students to ask questions about JUULing. 

“JUULing hit heights this year, so we wanted to let people make informed decisions,” Calli Dukas, SGA academic affairs committee chair, said. “We took an unbiased approach to inform students of the risks.”

This event was the first campus initiative regarding vaping. The e-cigarettes have become more accessible on campus, as both JUULs and JUUL pods can be purchased with FLEX at Mr. Chips, a campus convenience store.

“Aramark was responding to student requests for them to be sold in the convenience stores,” Bill Wyatt, director of communications and university spokesman, said in an email. Aramark didn’t respond to a request to comment. 

JMU Policy 1111 restricts smoking within buildings and facilities, including libraries, parking garages, vehicles owned or rented by the university and individual offices. This isn’t limited to cigarettes, but instead encompasses smoking as exhaling smoke from an e-cigarette or any kind of smoking device.

“The vapor is an aerosol, so we have secondhand smoke to consider,” Mindy Koon, assistant director of alcohol and other drug abuse prevention at UHC, said. “Thirdhand smoke, which is released to furniture, can have negative impacts to others in the environment.”

The December newsletter of “Potty Mouth,” which is hung on the back of bathroom door stalls around campus, featured JUULs and its risks. JUULs, unlike tobacco products, have a non-traceable odor. 

“The marketing, the flavor varieties, their novelty and the general idea that these products are safe make them attractive,” Koon said. “Now that they changed the website and the way they advertise, I think there’s potential for it to make a difference.”

JUUL Labs claims that its products are for adult smokers, however, multiple lawsuits allege the mission as deceptively marketed toward minors. The suits additionally accused the e-cigarette startup of causing users’ nicotine addiction. 

Following these allegations, the FDA announced a campaign to curb teenage vaping and announced Nov. 15 that it would restrict the sale of flavored JUUL pods to areas unreachable to teenagers. To avert users from moving to cigarettes, the brand, which has over a 70 percent share of the e-cigarette market, continued to sell tobacco, menthol and mint flavors.

“If an individual is already addicted to smoking cigarettes, then yes, e-cigarettes are a better alternative,” Guertler said. “The tars and other contaminants in cigarette smoke, which are the primary contributors to lung cancer and lung damage [result] in COPD.”

According to Guertler, research has suggested that nicotine is at least as equally addictive as heroin, cocaine and alcohol. It affects maturation of still-developing adolescent brains and interrupts the progression of healthy neurologic pathways for acquisition of knowledge, attention and vulnerability to addiction. 

JUULs contain the highest nicotine content compared to other e-cigarettes in the U.S. market. Many European countries have regulated or banned e-cigarettes, and when traveling or studying abroad, an avid JUUL user may revert to cigarettes.

“It is evident that nicotine, especially in the younger person, is a gateway drug and leads to use of more dangerous drugs and addictive behavior,” Guertler said. “There is research that shows that in individuals aged 15-26, use of e-cigarettes is associated with advancement of traditional tobacco use.”

The release of dopamine when nicotine is inhaled is thought to be the source of the pleasurable sensations experienced when smoking, and according to Guertler, can include relaxation, a buzz and a release of tension.

“After you’ve smoked a few times, nicotine begins to weaken your ability to feel pleasure, causing you to need more nicotine in order to sustain the good feelings,” Guertler said. “This is the cycle of the smoking habit; in order to continue feeling pleasure from smoking, you must continue to smoke more cigarettes, more frequently.”

Contact Mary Harrison at harri4mj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.