Avid JUUL vape user Madison Cruz collected 300 JUUL pods in the past year and vaped every waking hour. After five years of vaping, the University of Georgia student said it has become a lifestyle — one she was forced to quit just before the new year.
On Dec. 20, President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending package which included raising the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products, including vaping products, to 21.
The decision comes months after the first death linked to vaping was reported in Illinois on Aug. 23, 2019, according to The Washington Post.
“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so, so we’ll be coming out with something next week very important on vaping,” Trump said on Nov. 8 outside of the White House in footage from C-SPAN.
The Red & Black reported on vaping-related illnesses in October. At the time of publication in October, the national death toll was 26. As of Jan. 7, it was 57, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In November 2018, e-cigarette company JUUL announced its support of “Tobacco 21,” a campaign urging states to raise the tobacco age of sale to 21.
Since 2016, a slew of states have introduced Tobacco 21, the first being Hawaii, followed by California, New Jersey and 16 other states.
The new legislation came as a shock to active users under the age of 21, such as Cruz and Kerrigan Arnold, who both chose to vape in order to stop smoking cigarettes.
“Suddenly, I’m expected to quit vaping altogether, as if addiction and withdrawal isn’t real and difficult,” Cruz, a sophomore marketing major, said.
Caught in the middle
On her 18th birthday, Arnold’s friends bought her a vaporizer. Her habit quickly formed into an addiction as she consumed two vape pods a day. One JUUL pod includes either 3% or 5% concentration of nicotine — a 5% pod equals about 200 puffs or a 20-count pack of cigarettes.
Arnold, a freshman biology major, said she countered her anxiety with vaping and is unsure how to “cope” without her vaporizer. Speaking for herself and her friends, Arnold said the new legislation may not be enough to deter them from vaping.
“It’s hard to follow a new law when you’re addicted or going through withdrawals,” Arnold said. “Your body tells you ‘You need to vape,’ but our president now tells us we can’t.”
Cruz said with no other alternatives at hand, she is “finally” forced to quit nicotine. After 20 days nicotine free, she has experienced anxiety and insomnia, which are common withdrawal effects.
Elizabeth Bogue, an employee at Voodoo Vapes on Lexington Road, said multiple people entered the shop asking if employees would make an exception to the law.
Bogue said the shop received a letter from the FDA, warning they would be “prioritizing the enforcement” of the new legislation. The FDA announced on Dec. 21 that they would update their regulations to abide by the rules of the legislation within 180 days, as required.
Bogue, 24, started vaping five years ago and believes vaping is a method to wean off of cigarettes. Since the new law, Bogue said Voodoo Vapes has lost sales and management has heard several complaints about the age minimum. To deter complaints, Bogue posted a sign detailing the new law’s requirements on the front door of the shop.
When refused tobacco products, some customers asked which sellers or stores would sell to people under 21, Bogue said.
“This law preventing us from selling to those under 21 will only push them to buy dangerous e-cigarette pods off of the black market or from friends,” Bogue said.
Despite upset e-cigarette users, Todd Drake, a respiratory therapist at St. Mary’s Health Care System, said the new law is the best thing for “lungs everywhere.”
Drake witnessed a “severe” rise in nicotine dependence among his patients when e-cigarettes entered the U.S. market in 2007. The majority of his nicotine-dependent patients are under the age of 21, Drake said. He felt relieved when Trump signed the legislation.
According to the CDC, 38% of patients hospitalized for vaping-related illnesses in 2019 were 18 to 24 years old, as of Dec. 3.
“Although some kids can’t see it yet, this new law is a huge win for their health,” Drake said. “It’s about time.”
Cash Owens, a senior geology major, started using e-cigarettes in 2018 and continues to struggle with his nicotine addiction today. Although Owens, 22, understands the difficulty of quitting vaping, he also agrees with the new legislation.
“I wish we had this law when I was 18 — my vape wouldn’t be the issue it is today for me,” Owens said.
Seeing a doctor or a therapist can help combat nicotine addiction, according to the CDC. In his patients, Drake sees the most success with fighting nicotine addiction in those who seek a helpful friend or community of fellow addicts as well as a doctor’s help.
Owens and his younger friends now help each other in their “battle” to quit nicotine.
“Once you start, it’s hard to stop smoking or vaping,” Owens said. “My hope is this new law eventually stops young people from starting.”
Correction: This article previously stated the nationwide death toll for vaping-related illnesses was 2,561 as of Dec. 27. The death toll for such illnesses is actually 57, according to the CDC. The Red & Black regrets this error, and it has since been fixed.