I’m driving in the car with my mother when she asks if I want a piece of gum. I say sure before I realize that she’s chewing nicotine gum. “You know that stuff’s supposed to help you quit smoking, not get you started, right?” I ask. She replies that it’s great gum and repeats the offer. A longtime smoker who’s periodically trying to quit, she has a carton of gum that is roughly the dimensions of a family-sized box of Cap’n Crunch, so she’s got plenty to spare. If you think she sounds like a candidate for vaping, I agree. I decide it’s time to visit the intersection of pop culture and nicotine addiction, by which I mean the Juul.
If you haven’t heard of Juuling, well, then I guess you don’t know any teenagers. Juuls—slender vape pens that charge from a USB—are the scourge of schools everywhere. My niece, who is a freshman in high school, says that, like, oh my god, soooooooo many people are Juuling, it’s, like, crazy. And yes, teenage girls still talk exactly like they’re about to record the intro to “Baby Got Back.” “Oh my god, Becky, look at her Juul.”
To procure a Juul, I drive to my local vape emporium. Then I drive another few blocks, to make sure nobody sees my car parked at the local vape emporium.
Inside, the display case looks like a head shop from a near-future dystopia where bongs are replaced with electric pod-juice machines, most of which evoke the sexy aesthetic of discarded medical equipment from the biohazard dumpster behind the hospice center. I sheepishly ask the guy at the counter to point me toward the Juuls. He flashes a tight smile and tells me they don’t have any, but the gas station down the street does. As sheepish as I was to enter the vape store, I’m now slightly more embarrassed that the item I desire isn’t classy enough to be sold at a vape store.
At the gas station, I ask the cashier which flavor pods I should get with my Juul. I don’t really care, but for some reason I want her to know that I’m not a vape fiend. “Well, people seem to like the mango,” she says. “We can’t keep those in stock.” She’s ringing up my mango vape juice when I notice that the Juul itself comes with four starter pods, so the cashier voids the mango transaction while the people behind me stare impatiently, wondering when this degenerate will get out of the way so they can buy their scratch tickets and Monster Energy drink.
I take the Juul home to charge it before bringing it over to mom’s. I’d read that some teachers are banning USB drives because they can’t tell whether kids are saving homework or charging their nicotine wands. But the USB charger connects to the Juul at a right angle, so that when it’s plugged in the thing sticks straight up. This looks like a flash drive in the same way that a piece of Muenster looks like an iPhone. Besides, who uses flash drives? Like, what am I, a spy from 2003? Oh my god, Becky.
My mother doesn’t use flash drives. But she does dress completely in L.L. Bean, because apparently they’re the last company that will let you shop from the catalog over your landline phone. She wakes up to a clock radio. If she needs to send you a document, she’ll fax you from the nearest Mail Boxes Etc. So I’m not real confident she’ll embrace the Juul, even though it is theoretically safer than smoking. But when I open the box, she says, “Oh, I’ve already got one of those things,” and fetches an elaborate device of the sort I saw in the vape store. “I don’t use it, though,” she says. “I think I lost the charger.”
Maybe she’ll fare better with the Juul, which is simple enough that even a … smoker 18 years of age or older could use it. I tap it on the coffee table to activate the charge status light, which glows a happy green, and I jam a crème brulee pod in the end. I expect the tip to start smoldering or emitting a wisp of fragrance, but: nothing. The stick just sits there, inert, until I pick it up and take a drag. Then my lungs fill with sickly sweet mist and I cough my brains out before handing the thing over to my mom, who smoothly takes a small hit and exhales a calm cloud. “It tastes pretty good,” she says, but she doesn’t seem impressed.
I take another hit. It’s like putting my head inside a cake. I feel slightly lightheaded, then mildly nauseous. Wow, what fun! This is definitely worth forming an expensive and debilitating addiction over—NOT. That’s my rad anti-Juul PSA, kids.
But really, I don’t get why you’d ever start doing this. Think of all the other things you could be spending money on, like Fortnite skins or a new iPhone screen to replace the other new iPhone screen that you just broke. Even my mom was unimpressed. She went right back to nicotine gum. You never lose the charger for that. ◆
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