A writer on The Guardian reports – The electronic cigarette was invented as a means to help its two co-founders quit smoking. But it’s surprisingly hard to quit the quitting tool. I found out 27 days ago when I took a final puff of my USB-shaped nicotine vape, which over the past year had become an extension of my arm.
When I first picked up a Juul, it seemed innocent enough: I was out on a Saturday night and I felt itchy for a new vice. At 25, I had made it through most of my life without smoking cigarettes, save for when I was out on the weekends and bumming them from friends.
But it seemed cool – the teens are doing it! Models like Gigi Hadid were doing it! It was small and cute! It didn’t make you smell bad! It came in yummy flavours like mango and mint and cucumber! So in September 2018, I sauntered into a Brooklyn bodega on Saturday night and purchased a Juul starter kit with the classic black device and four flavours of pods.
Less than one year later, I had slid into new depths of vape depravity, consuming a pod and a half – more than a pack of cigarettes worth of nicotine – per day and spending at least $25 a week on pods. I had taken to carrying around an external battery pack lest my e-cigarette die and I be trapped without my fix. On vacation in a city without brand-name vaping pods for sale I wandered for hours in search of a vape store.
In other words, I had unwittingly become the face of what the FDA has called “an epidemic of addiction”, as one of millions of young Americans who became addicted to vaping without having smoked cigarettes.
This year, there have been hundreds reports of users with lung problems from vaping and the CDC encouraged adults to “[refrain] from using e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC”. A ban on Juul flavors in San Francisco – where I live – made buying pods extremely burdensome, and Donald Trump threatened to ban flavored pods from stores on a federal level.
I knew it was time to quit – but I had no idea how hard it would be.
Nicotine is one of the world’s most addictive chemicals. Even smoking just one cigarette a month induces addiction in more than 30% of users, a 2002 study from Medical School found. Another study found 97% of people who smoked three or more cigarettes became addicted. The number of teens using vapes daily increased by 80% in 2018.
“It’s almost a guaranteed addiction,” Judith Grisel, a former nicotine addict herself and author of Never Enough: the Neuroscience of Addiction, said. “It’s very compelling because the brain adapts to it so quickly, in a way that isn’t true with opiates or alcohol. Some people can drink alcohol without developing a problem, not everyone who takes opiates recreationally has a problem, but pretty much everyone likes the feeling of nicotine.”
“Vaping is even more addictive than cigarettes”, Grisel said.
“The delivery of nicotine in vapes is even quicker than cigarettes, which is hard to do,” Grisel said. “That’s the biggest factor in addictive liability if it’s the same chemical: the speed with which you get the hit.”
The function of an e-cigarette makes it difficult to quit as well. Its discrete puffs of smoke and small size make using it much easier, and quitting it much harder. When I vaped, I didn’t take smoke breaks – I had grown accustomed to puffing away all day at my desk, and even more on stressful deadlines. I was often vaping in my pajamas the last thing before bed and the first thing when I woke up. I vaped on bike rides, on plane bathrooms, and at the office. Once I repeatedly hit my e-cigarette on a kayak as I floated through the rivers of northern California, storing the device in my swimsuit top.
I have heard of varying ways to quit vaping: teens are filming themselves throwing their e-cigarette out the window and soaking them in water. One person I spoke with successfully used a combination of Wellbutrin – an antidepressant with smoking cessation side-effects – and nicotine patches to quit. Another friend began filling her own pods with a lower-percentage vape fluid, steadily decreasing it until it was just 1%, and then nicotine-free. Others, ironically, are now using cigarettes to quit the Juul they bought to quit cigarettes.
As for me, I locked my Juul in a timed safe in my room and decided I was done, for good. I set it to close for 72 hours. At the recommendation of many ex-smokers, I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking – a book written in 1985 about cigarettes, long before the vaping epidemic had been realized. It uses tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy to change the beliefs of the addict until the desire to use nicotine is completely removed. It promises that after three days of pain, you will be free of nicotine cravings. Grisel said this is consistent with the science of quitting.
“The rapidity with which you develop an addiction mirrors the rapidity with which you get over the addiction,” she said. “You quickly get addicted to nicotine and it quickly leaves the system.”
During what may have been the worst 72 hours of my life, the idea that nicotine withdrawal would simply dissipate if I could refrain from hitting the stupid metal vape that got me here was incomprehensible.
I scheduled my quitting days for the weekend so I could retreat into withdrawal in peace, but it was hellish. I biked manically, I cried publicly, I grew irritated at nearly every sound I heard. But on day four I woke up with a realization: I no longer wanted nicotine.