(The Verge) WHY IS JUUL WORTH $16 BILLION? IT’S MORE LIKE A CIGARETTE THAN YOU THINK
“This is a recipe for addiction.”
Verge video director Christian Mazza started vaping after he quit the cigarettes he’d smoked for 15 years. At first, he didn’t like the Juul compared to the low-nicotine e-cigs he started with. But over time, he says, “It just sort of took over, and everything else just got put away in a shelf — and the Juul became the daily driver.” It’s tiny, discreet, and the e-cig liquid doesn’t leak. Plus, he says, “I don’t know what’s going on on a molecular level, but it hits smoother and it’s a lot more satisfying when you’re craving that nicotine.”
Dieter Bohn, The Verge’s executive editor, agrees. “I do feel the hit of the nicotine much more strongly than I do with other e-cigs,” he says. “The fact that the nicotine appears to feel a little more effective or direct than other vapes means, for me at least, it has been remarkably difficult to kick it.”
These nicotine salts are less harsh to inhale than the straight-up, “freebase” nicotine used in most regular nicotine vapes — the same kind of nicotine you get from smoking the air-dried tobacco used for pipes and cigars. Freebase nicotine can be absorbed through your mouth — but it’s also much less pleasant to inhale because of its “greater physiological (throat and chest) impact and toxicity,” according to a report for the tobacco industry from the 1970s.
So you can kind of think of regular vapes like cigars, and the Juul like a cigarette: many vape juices use freebase nicotine, but Juul, which was “created to be a satisfying alternative to cigarettes,” has those JuulSalts that make the nicotine easier to inhale. Juul combines freebase nicotine with benzoic acid in its e-liquid, creating a chemical reaction that produces the nicotine salts. Each JuulPod e-liquid cartridges contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, the company says — and it’s in a form that’s just as easy to inhale as cigarettes.
For adult smokers who want to stop smoking and still need a nicotine hit, “that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” says Gideon St Helen, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “You just don’t want young people using it.” The company cautions similarly. “Juul is intended for adult smokers only who want to switch from combustible cigarettes,” says spokesperson Victoria Davis, who calls fighting underage vaping “a top priority for the company.” To that end, Juul has promised $30 million for research and education geared at keeping young people from vaping. “We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try Juul,” she says.
But young people do use Juuls, according to a wave of reporting from the New York Timesand New Yorker. Even though tobacco use has dropped overall since 2011 for teens and adolescents, there’s still a “disturbingly high number of youth who are using e-cigarettes and vaping products,” the FDA says in a statement. And the FDA has demanded that Juul Labs Inc. hand over details about its products.
Juul’s products contain higher doses of nicotine and lower levels of the harsh freebase nicotine than other e-cigs, new research says. Chemistry professors David Peyton, Jim Pankow, and graduate student Anna Duell at Portland State University tested 11 different e-cig liquids. They also tested the aerosols produced by three of those liquids. To catch enough of the plume droplets to measure their contents, the team had to essentially milk the vape with a syringe pump.
They found that the Juul ‘Fruit Medley’ and ‘Creme Brulee’ flavored liquids had the highest nicotine content, but nearly the lowest levels of nicotine freebase, according to their recent paper published in Chemical Research in Toxicology. Only one liquid, called Placid, had lower levels of freebase nicotine and significantly lower nicotine content overall.
Essentially, Juul packs a bigger nicotine punch in a more pleasant package than the other products the team tested.
“If you’ve never smoked, and you try Juul for a few days, this is a recipe for addiction,” says Peyton, who calls Juul a double-edged sword. “You could make someone addicted who’s never been a smoker — or, for someone who is addicted to nicotine, this could be a way to get off of cigarettes.”
Juul’s nicotine salts are patented. And that patent is crystal clear about why Juul uses nicotine salts: it delivers nicotine to users almost exactly like a cigarette. “[N]icotine salt formulations provide satisfaction in an individual superior to that of free base nicotine and more comparable to the satisfaction in an individual smoking a traditional cigarette,” the patent says. “The peak concentrations of the nicotine in the blood and total amount of nicotine delivered appears comparable to a traditional cigarette.” And indeed, the company submitted charts with the patent illustrating its claims that nicotine salts closely match the amount of nicotine delivered into the bloodstream by a Pall Mall cigarette, as compared to freebase nicotine.