Juuls are everywhere. Vandy kids pass them around at frat parties, take rips through closed fists on Stevenson bridge and blow Cool Cucumber smoke down shirt collars in Gen Chem. In order to understand the Juul’s ascension to the center of youth culture, however, some background is helpful.
Since the 1980s, tobacco companies have sought the Holy Grail of a popular, easy-to-use e-cigarette. Creating a tarless nicotine vaporizer could wean cigarette smokers off of their cancer sticks, giving tobacco companies moral credibility in the public eye. However, their efforts came up short. It would take a new generation of innovators to bring us the Juul.
Two smokers, Adam Bowen and James Monsees, set out to develop a marketable e-cigarette for users like them. After a series of small successes with handheld vaporizers, the duo launched the Juul in 2015. The user-friendly nicotine oven inside the flashdrive-adjacent device heats up a carcinogen-free liquid in the “pod”, creating the flavored smoke with nothing but an inhale. With sleek design and simple operation, minus the killer chemicals in cigarettes, more than a million smokers have switched to Juuls. And that’s where we come in.
Post-millennials have entirely repurposed the Juul, to the alarm of health professionals and the mainstream media, who harp on the prospect of adolescent nicotine addiction. Once a rehabilitative gem, we’ve repackaged it into a meme, a pariah for both suburban moms and the FDA and a plaything for our disposal. We pose with it in Insta photos. We Ofo to gas stations to buy pods. We make jokes about it; we laugh at them in between rips.
I couldn’t think a more perfect example of our generation’s haunting ability to turn the serious into the hilarious and the trivial.
Our socio political climate couldn’t be more treacherous. A wannabe authoritarian sits in the nation’s highest office, threatening to break down the independent media and eroding public trust for our government. Rising college tuitions and a rapidly evolving job market will leave many soon-to-be-college-graduates out in the cold. The rogue administration in North Korea might well be on the way to developing a long-range ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. And while many young people have responded with action, most brush off these cruel realities.
Trump has turned into a meme, becoming the butt of jokes on Twitter. Subreddits are dotted with light posts about student loans and living with parents in one’s mid-30’s. And no one can seem to take Kim Jong Un seriously.
We’ve lived around crazy all our lives. We were born when our President was being impeached over a sex scandal. We took our first steps when the Towers came down. We were playing tee ball when the U.S. invaded Iraq. We transitioned from elementary to middle school when the first Black man ascended to the presidency. We started having our first crushes when Sandy Hook became a war zone. And we were heading off to college when a reality TV star set up shop in the Oval Office. If we took all of this in all of the time, we’d go crazy. So we look at our crazy world and have a laugh.
And so with one more crisis comes one more joke, one more triviality. We looked towards our elders and saw them dying from lung cancer. We saw an undiscriminating killer take the bodies of our loved ones. So, naturally, when a treatment came around, we made it our own.
This power to transform tragedy into comedy can be a balm. Our acquisition of the Juul is no exception. In seeking to cope with calamity, we may have gotten ourselves addicted to nicotine. The effect that Juul will have on our bodies may outweigh its healing powers.
For better or worse, we have made the Juul our own. But if you seek a culprit for the rise of the Juul, don’t look towards us kids. We’re just trying to figure out how to live in this scary world of ours.