A person's holding a JUUL e-cigarette in the palm of their hand. Share on Pinterest

Electronic cigarettes go by a variety of names: e-cigs, electronic nicotine delivery systems, vaping devices, and vaping pens, among others.

A dozen years ago, you probably didn’t know a single person who used any of them, since they only hit the U.S. market in 2007. But their popularity quickly soared.

Some medical experts have pointed out that vaping devices may be useful for people who want to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. However, many people, including lawmakers, are concerned about the health risks posed by e-cigarettes, like the devices made by JUUL Labs.

In fact, a growing number of cities and states are passing laws banning the use of e-cigarettes in public schools and universities, on public transportation, and in smoke-free venues.

One of their biggest concerns: the side effects of JUUL and similar devices.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the potential health risks of vaping devices like JUUL, what they contain, and symptoms that may indicate a health problem.

Vaping devices can look slightly different from each other. But they all basically work the same way: A heating element heats a nicotine solution, producing a vapor the user inhales into their lungs.

JUUL is just a brand name for one particular e-cigarette. They’re small and resemble USB flash drives.

Users can even plug their devices into a computer to charge them, just like you’d insert a USB flash drive into a computer. They’re easily hidden in a pocket or purse.

A 2018 research study analyzed the growth of various e-cigarette manufacturers.

The researchers found that JUUL went from a small company to the largest retail brand of e-cigarettes in the United States between 2015 and 2017. Today, it holds almost 70 percent of the U.S. market share.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested that popular devices like JUUL are likely responsible for the surge in e-cigarette use between 2017 and 2018.

One reason often cited for the popularity of JUUL among young people is the variety of flavored nicotine solutions.

Users can buy interchangeable pods, called JUUL pods or vape pods, that are filled with flavored solutions, like mango, mint, cucumber, or fruit medley.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already warned JUUL Labs about marketing its products to youth and claiming they’re safer than traditional cigarettes without any evidence to back up that claim.

In September 2019, the FDA announced its intention to address the popularity of flavored e-cigarette products among youth by banning their sale.

Summary

JUUL is a brand name of a small vaping device that resembles a USB flash drive.

It’s the largest retail brand of e-cigarette in the United States with almost 70 percent of the e-cigarette market share.

One reason often cited for its popularity, especially among teenagers, is the variety of flavored vaping solutions, such as mint, mango, and other fruity flavors.

Most people understand that traditional cigarettes contain nicotine. But e-cigarettes do, too, and not everyone is aware of that.

Nicotine

Many teens and young adults don’t know e-cigarettes contain this habit-forming substance.

According to a 2019 study published in Tobacco Control, 63 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 didn’t realize that the solutions in JUUL pods contained nicotine.

JUUL Labs maintains that the solution in JUUL pods is a proprietary blend, but we do know it contains nicotine. Not only does it contain nicotine, but some pods actually have a higher nicotine content than many other types of e-cigarettes.

Some JUUL pods contain 5 percent nicotine by weight. That’s twice as much as many other types of e-cigarettes.

The danger of using a product containing nicotine is that users can develop dependence and have a hard time shaking the habit.

Plus, if you do try to stop using a product containing nicotine, you can experience withdrawal symptoms. You might feel very irritable, or you may feel anxious or even depressed if you can’t satisfy your craving to vape.

Other ingredients

Besides nicotine, other ingredients in a typical JUUL pod solution include:

  • Benzoic acid. It’s a preservative often used as a food additive.
  • A blend of propylene glycol and glycerine. These are carrier solvents used to create a clear vapor when the solution heats up.
  • Flavorings. These are likely made from natural and synthetic substances. However, JUUL doesn’t specify what’s included in some of its flavorings.

Experts aren’t yet certain about the long-term risks of vaping. A 2014 study published in Tobacco Control points to a lack of adequate data about the long-term inhalation of these substances.

Summary

JUUL contains nicotine, although many people are unaware of this fact. Some JUUL pods contain almost twice as much nicotine as other types of e-cigs.

Besides nicotine, JUUL pods also include other ingredients, like benzoic acid, propylene glycol, glycerine, and substances that create different flavors.

You may be familiar with the side effects of smoking a traditional tobacco cigarette.

Smoking can damage your lungs and airways and contribute to heart disease. It can narrow your blood vessels and increase your risk for high blood pressure while lowering your immune system’s ability to fight off infections, among other effects.

It’s true that you won’t experience the exact same effects from vaping. You’re not physically lighting up a cigarette with a flame to cause what are often called combustion toxicants.

But using a JUUL e-cigarette can still have side effects.

Vaping-associated lung injury

A growing number of people are developing what the CDC calls e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury, or EVALI.

As of early November 2019, the CDC had logged more than 2,000 cases of EVALI and 39 deaths.

Most have been linked to marijuana products containing a substance called THC, but the CDC cautions the possibility of nicotine also being a factor can’t be ruled out yet.

Other side effects

Even if you don’t experience serious side effects that land you in the hospital, you might experience throat and mouth irritation.

Coughing and nausea are also common side effects from using a JUUL device or other type of e-cigarette.

Unknown long-term effects

Vaping devices are still fairly new products, so there could also be long-term side effects that we don’t know about yet. Researchers are currently looking into whether there could be negative long-term effects from vaping.

Many experts note that more research is necessary. Not enough time has passed to gather the kind of information needed to make a robust assessment of the long-term impact on the health of people who vape or those who are exposed to the vapor.

For now, any link between using JUUL or other vaping devices and developing cancer is still unclear.

However, the American Cancer Society does note e-cigs do contain some cancer-causing chemicals in lower concentrations than traditional cigarettes.

A new study did find evidence that e-cigarette smoke caused DNA damage in the lungs and bladders of mice, which could lead to the development of cancer.

However, the study was small and limited to laboratory animals. More research is needed.

Summary

A serious condition known as e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury (EVALI) has been linked to e-cigarettes. To date, more than 2,000 cases and 39 deaths have been linked to e-cigarette use.

Throat and mouth irritation, coughing, and nausea are also common side effects. More research needs to be done to determine whether there’s a long-term risk of cancer.

When you smoke a traditional cigarette, the smoke drifts through the air. People who are nearby breathe in the smoke. This is called secondhand smoke. It can harm the health of anyone who inhales it.

An e-cigarette doesn’t produce smoke. A more accurate name for the “secondhand smoke” that comes from a JUUL or other vaping devices is secondhand aerosol.

Even though e-cigs like JUUL produce more of a vapor than smoke, there are often harmful components emitted into the air.

In addition to nicotine, volatile organic compounds and even heavy metals and silicate particles have been found in the aerosol vapor. If you inhale these substances, they can get lodged in your lungs and could pose a threat to your health.

Some preliminary research suggests the nicotine in the smoke could also cause damage that could lead to cancer, but more long-term research is needed.

Quitting altogether is the safest option for avoiding the side effects of vaping. The approach is similar to the one you’d use to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

You can:

  • Set a target quit date and develop a strategy to help you quit.
  • Identify your triggers and find ways to avoid them.
  • Enlist friends or loved ones to help you.
  • Talk to a doctor or smoking cessation counselor for help with quitting. There are even texting programs to help you quit.

Quitting isn’t always easy. It often takes many attempts to stay quit for good.

If you’re looking for ways to minimize the side effects without giving up vaping altogether, or as you taper in preparation for quitting, consider these strategies:

STRATEGIES FOR REDUCING SIDE EFFECTS
  • Switch to a solution with a lower nicotine content.
  • Use a nicotine-free solution with your vaping device.
  • Switch from a fruit or mint-flavored solution to a tobacco-flavored solution, which may be less appealing.

If you use a JUUL device or other type of e-cigarette, be sure to follow up with your doctor if you notice you’ve developed:

  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • any mild symptoms that are getting worse

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath

These symptoms could be the early signs of a potentially serious condition, like acute respiratory distress syndrome. This syndrome can cause serious damage to your lungs.

If you’re diagnosed with EVALI, you may need to undergo various testing and treatment, which may include corticosteroids. Your doctor will almost certainly advise you to avoid vaping in the future.

Many of the long-term effects of using JUUL vaping devices and other e-cigarettes aren’t known yet. But what we do know so far suggests that you should approach them with caution.

If you don’t already use one, don’t start. If you do use one and start experiencing new symptoms, stop vaping and check in with your doctor as soon as possible.