I remember my first hit. It was from my friend’s JUUL. I was 15 years old. After a few painful coughs I learned how to inhale. Then I got it: the buzz. Light-headness and a warm sensation traveled through my body. I’d never felt anything like it. I loved it. I wanted that feeling again. I craved that feeling. And just like that, I was hooked.
At the time, I didn't see an issue with it. Six years ago, there were no real studies on the dangers of vaping. Or if there were, my friends and I were certainly not aware. We liked it. It was fun. In between classes we’d make a beeline for the bathroom; get in our morning rips. After school before sports practices we’d go to the locker room or our cars and hit them as much as possible. We were all addicts, whether we’d admit to ourselves or not.
I’d known for years the dangers of cigarettes. They cause lung cancer. They kill you. I’d seen the ads by the Truth Initiative on Teen Nick as a kid. I heard from my mother who was addicted for over 20 years and didn’t quit until she had children. If you asked me then, I would say I had no inkling to smoke a cigarette ever. I would bargain with myself, trying to justify my actions by insisting that since I wasn’t smoking cigarettes, it wasn’t as bad. That might’ve been the truth. But there was another cold hard truth I was in denial about. I was a part of a second generation of smokers. The vapers; the fiends. I was just another nicotine addict. And even arguably more reliant on it than most cigarette smokers. One JUUL pod contains the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. How can I not be dependent on it?
But quitting takes a lot more willpower than most of us are willing to admit. Over the years I must have said “I’m quitting JUUL. I promise. This time I’m done vaping” close to a million times. And I am now well aware of the dangers of vaping. I’m not 15 anymore. I’ve heard it time and time again from my parents and friends. I’ve seen the news of young adolescents like ourselves who’ve been hospitalized for serious lung injuries. As of February 2020, there's been a total of 2,807 hospitalizations and 68 deaths from this fatal lung disease doctors are calling EVALI, E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury.
Does that scare the shit out of me? Yes. Have I stopped? No.
Well until last week. That’s when I decided it was time for me to stop. Really stop. But honestly it’s not easy to do it in college. It feels like almost everyone has one, and whether I’m out at a party or just hanging with friends, I see them everywhere. It’s been estimated that roughly 1 in 20 Americans vape.
How can I quit when that one thing I’m trying to rid myself of is constantly surrounding me? It’s seemingly impossible. Most of the time it feels like people are perpetuating each other to continue, instead of doing the opposite.
And if I am being completely honest, I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own. My dad found my JUUL in the car. I had never been confronted by either of my parents for vaping and I was terrified when he told me his finding. When he came to talk to me about it, I saw not just the disappointment but the true fear and sadness in his eyes. He didn’t chastise me. He was just worried. As any parent would be.
We had a long conversation about how dangerous the chemicals and toxins I’m inhaling are; how in the years to come we’re going to see the same trend with cigarettes of people being diagnosed with diseases and potentially lung cancer.
But what really got me was when he said, “Nat, all I want you in this world is for you to live a long life. And if you keep up this vaping that’s not going to be a guarantee. Doesn’t that scare you?” He was right. I’ve been in denial for years of the terrifying reality that vaping will lead to. That’s why I have to try. The truth is, I don’t want to die young. And to be honest I almost had a glimpse of it.
Last Spring I ended up in the ER with a serious lung infection. I had a terrible cough for weeks and one morning I was coughing up blood. The doctors asked me if I vaped or smoked and I came clean. They told me that this was most likely the cause. They reminded me of the seriousness of this situation. How if I didn’t stop I’d end up here again. Vaping was poisoning me. No, it was killing me.
I was scared straight. I was done. I couldn’t afford to throw my life away for some silly addiction. Or at least that’s what I told myself. But just like that, I found myself buying a new pack of pods a week later. Quitting seems easy. I defend myself all the time saying things like “I can quit as soon as I want to. I just have to stop. It can’t be that hard.” But it’s not as simple as I think. Addiction is a disease. And we don’t talk about it enough.
We’re either scared to admit we are addicts or those who are brave enough to do so are ashamed to bring it up to their peers. No change can be made this way. We have to create safe spaces where real conversations can be had about struggling with addiction and trying to overcome it.
If my dad and I didn’t talk about it, I wouldn’t have had the courage to write this piece, let alone really attempt to quit. And a lot of times all you hear are the successes. But quitting is, to a certain degree, all about failure. It’s about being okay with making mistakes and regressing. I’ve been trying to do so for years at this point and I’ve never been successful. Addiction is an uphill battle. But it's a battle I am now actively trying to win.
This time to ensure I would be successful, I researched and took all the precautions I needed to. I signed up for an e-cigarette quitting program. I get texts every day offering support and advice on how to quit. These include positive reinforcements such as “Physical activity can help you beat craving and reduce withdrawal symptoms. Go for a walk or run!” or “Cravings are temporary. Stop and breathe.” They remind me of how much money I will save by not smoking. When I text “CRAVE” or “MOOD,” I get an immediate response telling me things like “Try keeping your hands busy. Play a game on your phone or cook something healthy.” I didn’t think these texts would help as much as they have. But just having that extra support can really give you the push you need.
The next precaution I took was to buy nicotine patches. I knew this wouldn’t solve my addiction but I heard it significantly reduces urges to smoke. So I bought a two week pack. I was shocked when the clerk rang me up. The pack was fifty-five dollars! More than double a pack of pods that normally last me a week or two anyway. The tobacco industry is actively making it more expensive to quit nicotine than to sustain the addiction. We often forget that the big bad tobacco industry we learned about in middle school, with videos of people using voice boxes because of throat cancer or losing all their teeth because of cigarettes, is also feeding us topical, candy-like smoke that gives you a buzz. A product that is clearly designed for the naive, sweet toothed kid. The difference in price between a one-time purchase of patches and pods might push someone already itching for nicotine to prolong their addition, and the industry knows this. Remember, they’ve been practicing since before our grandparents. I know I don’t want to support people like that.
To be honest with you, this past week hasn’t been easy. The patches and texts are helpful. But I still crave and struggle every day to not buy another JUUL or disposable.
But then I remind myself: every day I don’t vape, I’m saving myself. I’m allowing myself to live a longer, healthier life. I’m not supporting the corrupt tobacco industry. I’m taking the first steps to make one of the best decisions of my life. And I hope I’ve convinced the readers who are just as dependent. Trust me I know it’s hard. Like I said, beating any addiction is extremely strenuous. But I’m actively doing it. I know I can. And I know all my fellow nicotine fiends can too. So let’s do it together. Let’s talk about it. I’m serious, please reach out to me. Even if you aren’t 100% committed or you just need some kind of support, I am here. Like I’ve said, it starts with open conversation.
We can do it.
We can win.
Let’s quit nic.
Sources I used: