"No one thought it was bad": One teen's struggle with Juul addiction


"I couldn't focus on my schoolwork at all because all I was focusing on was just trying to get more nicotine and I - my grades actually fell pretty far behind because I just wasn't focused at all. I was just focused on getting another hit of the vape."

Seventeen-year-old William Smith says be became addicted to vaping… Juul, his brand of choice.

He started when he was 15. And at his peak, Smith says he was using one flavored Juul pod or more every day - inhaling the same amount of nicotine found in a pack of 20 cigarettes.


"No one thought it was bad. No one knew what it did. So at the time everyone thought it was just a good thing that made people happy and less stressed."

The Trump administration in September announced plans to ban all flavored e-cigarette products which have been criticized for appealing to teens... following a U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning that Juul was misleading consumers by marketing its products as safer than cigarettes.

Juul responded by halting U.S. sales of its flavored pods except for mint, menthol and tobacco flavors.

But when Smith was vaping - the fruity and sweet flavors were popular.


"People would like just randomly ask me in the middle of class if I could if they could use my thing just out of nowhere. It - just throughout the entire day, people were just asking if they could use it and use it and use it. And I just continued on because everyone was like addicted. It's bad."

Juul is under fire from critics who say it helped create an epidemic of teenage nicotine use.

According to government data released in September - more than one in four high schoolers had used e-cigarettes in the last month.

Reuters has learned from a former company manager and former company scientist that - from the get-go - some insiders discussed concerns about Juul's potency, addictiveness and its potential to appeal to young people.

In written answers to Reuters, Juul said its founder, James Monsees said he did not recall early conversations about the problem of youth e-cigarette use, but said the company did increase its youth prevention measures as teenage use became apparent.

Juul maintains it never intended to attract underage customers. But the company is under fire from critics who say it helped create an epidemic of teenage nicotine use.

Reuters' Chris Kirkham has been speaking to scientists and employees who were around when the company launched the Juul device.


"The creators of Juul wanted to create a product that would closely mimic a cigarette. But a lot of researchers now believe that the company may have actually created a more addictive version of a cigarette. And that's because Juul is different in a lot of ways than a cigarette. It doesn't have a lot of the unpleasant characteristics. You're not lighting something on fire. There's not a bad smell. You can do it virtually anywhere. And a Juul doesn't ever burn out. You can sort of continually puff away at a Juul whereas a cigarette eventually burns out. And that sort of provides an end point."

The appeal of Juul didn't stop with its design… sweet, fruity flavors helped, as did a marketing campaign that critics say was clearly targeted at teenagers.

Company leaders have said they regret some of the early advertising... and say it targeted customers in their 20s and 30s, not teenagers.

Congress is investigating.

Juul maintains it never intended to attract underage customers. But acknowledges it needs to earn back the trust of regulators and the public.


"Juul's early marketing was very hip and stylish and rarely mentioned nicotine, but at the same time its sales force was really keying in on the addictive properties of the nicotine that was in their product. Some of our reporting shows that when the company was trying to get retailers to carry the product, they showed a chart that basically showed the blood delivery of the nicotine and how it compared very closely to a cigarette. So the addictive properties of Juul's nicotine were a huge part of the sales strategy, but rarely mentioned in the early marketing."

Smith is under the treatment of Pediatrician Dr. Jonathan Winickoff who says e-cigarette users are putting chemicals and dangerous levels of nicotine into their bodies.


"So the message out there was this is a safe product. Absolutely not true... There's nothing that's safe about inhaling a mango or inhaling berry flavor. It's just not safe. It's not what the body was designed to do. The lungs of an adolescent even lungs of adult are designed for one thing and that's breathing in clean air."

Smith says that breathing did become noticeably difficult for him while playing high school sports.


"Close to the end of my junior year I started to like realize it's like hey I can't breathe as well like I'm just feeling terrible. And at one point I did actually quit I believe for two months but I kind of did it like cold turkey with no anything else. So like I had bad withdrawals. I just was very very on edge. I snapped at people. I started screaming. It was just very bad."

The CDC has advised people - especially teens - to stop vaping any brand of e-cigarette - as doctors and researchers struggle to understand the link between vaping devices and a deadly lung illness that's killed at least 37 people in the United States this year.

The illnesses arising from vaping have not been specifically linked to Juul.

Emerging research, however, suggests nicotine poses serious risks to the developing adolescent brain.

Juul did not specifically comment on the research.

As medical experts struggle to find ways to end the epidemic of teenage vaping use, Smith says putting down his Juul is a struggle, and he still vapes from time to time. Even though he wears a nicotine patch 24 hours a day.