And this "Truth" Campaign "Fact" Isn't Even True
One of the oft-repeated "facts" being disseminated by the "truth" campaign is that one Juul pod is equal to 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine.
More specifically, the "truth" campaign claims, as its #1 most important fact about Juul that: "The amount of nicotine in one JUUL cartridge is roughly equal to the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes."
Joining the "truth" campaign in spreading this factual information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whose web site currently states that: "a single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes."
This "fact" has spread like wildfire. Just as one example, a parenting article in a news magazine writes: "Each JUUL pod contains the approximate equivalent
to 1 pack of cigarettes, or 200 puffs. So, if a user goes through one
JUUL pod a day, that is the nicotine equivalent of smoking a pack of
cigarettes a day."
Similarly, the appropriately named "Scary Mommy" web site warns that: "one Juul “pod” contains 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine (that’s a pack of regular cigarettes)."
It's not just scary mommy blogs that are disseminating this "critical fact" about Juul. The high tech-site "Inc." has this to say about Juul: "The secret is its uniquely potent formula--a single pod contains roughly as much nicotine as a pack of smokes."
I could go on and on with examples. The Chicago Daily Herald reports that: "Most of Juul's single pods contain the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes." Collegiate Times tells readers that "Engineered to be much more convenient than a cigarette, JUULs are
arguably more addictive as one pod is the equivalent of 20 cigarettes
(or a typical pack of smokes)...". Vogue magazine reported that even "Dan from Poison Control" apparently informed one concerned caller that the amount of nicotine in a Juul pod is exactly the same as the total amount of nicotine in an entire pack of cigarettes: "Dan from Poison Control called me back to say that a fresh Juul pod has the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes."
One respiratory therapist warned that because a single Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, a youth who vapes is in danger of dying from nicotine poisoning: "Juul, which is one of the most popular brands on the market, contains the equivalent of 20 cigarettes. Many times, a bottle of e-liquid can contain the same amount of
nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. That means kids, who
might like the flavor and puff, puff, puff and go through the entire
container, are taking in 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine. This sudden increase in nicotine can lead to nicotine poisoning, a potentially fatal condition."
The Rest of the Story
There are two severe problems with this claim by the "truth" campaign.
First, the message that it is sending to kids is that you are better off smoking 19 cigarettes than vaping one Juul pod. This comparison certainly makes it sound like Juuling is a lot worse than smoking. And if that's the case, then the clear message is that you are better off smoking than Juuling.
That's clearly the message that the "truth" campaign and other anti-tobacco organizations and health agencies are sending to public health practitioners. For example, the National Center for Health Research informed its readers that vaping is no safer than smoking. A magazine devoted to asthma and allergies told its readers that e-cigarettes are no safer than cigarettes for kids with asthma.
This message is a potentially damaging one from a public health perspective. It undermines the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking and obviously, if any kids end up smoking instead of Juuling because of this information, it could have disastrous consequences.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who sees the problem with this message. A number of young people took to Twitter with the same message:
"This JUUL thing is so Dumb I wanna smoke 19 Cigarettes."
"Hey guys.. time to smoke 19 cigarettes instead of a juul pod cause it’s better for you!!!!"
"Okay I’ll just smoke 19 cigarettes instead of my Juul now, thank you for the advice!"
"yeah f__k the juul go smoke 19 cigarettes instead."
But there's a second, possibly more subtle problem with the claim:
It's not true.
It doesn't take an advanced math degree to fact-check this claim. We just need two pieces of information:
1. The most highly concentrated Juul pod (there are two concentrations) contains 40 mg of nicotine.
2. An average cigarette contains about 12 mg of nicotine.
Thus, a Juul pod contains the amount of nicotine equivalent to that in about 3 cigarettes (not 20 cigarettes).
Moreover, there is nothing terribly unique about the Juul in terms of nicotine content. There are hundreds of varieties of e-liquids on the market that contain 24 mg of nicotine per cartridge, with a cartridge delivering about 200 puffs, similar to a Juul pod. So in reality, the Juul contains less than twice the amount of nicotine present in many other electronic cigarettes.
Focusing on the nicotine content obscures a more important factor, one which does actually separate out Juul from most other vaping products. That factor is the rate of absorption of nicotine into the bloodstream. Because of the nicotine formulation used in Juul (i.e., a nicotine salt), it is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and the pattern of nicotine levels in the blood over time mimics that of cigarette smoking. This is unlike the pattern for almost every other type of electronic cigarette on the market, which uniformly deliver nicotine quite ineffectively and therefore have a low addiction potential. By focusing on the nicotine content, rather than the formulation, the "truth" campaign and CDC are obscuring the most important information that people need to understand.
This commentary is not to minimize the addictive potential of Juul, the fact that there is a high level of nicotine absorption from Juul (much higher than from almost all other e-cigarettes), or that the pattern of nicotine in the bloodstream over time produced by the Juul does mimic that of cigarette smoking. It is just to highlight that there are a lot of exaggerated claims out there and in addition to just being incorrect, some of these claims could actually do public health harm.
Note: This post is dedicated to Kimberly Manor, the owner of Moose Jooce vape shops in Michigan: "Kim Shilling Manor smoked 2 1/2 packs of Marlboro reds a day. She smoked
even after her husband died of lung cancer and her mother
developed lung cancer. Kim quit smoking the FIRST time she tried
vaping! It was life changing for her and she opened Moose Jooce so people could see just how easy it was to live smoke free!" It is because of Kimberly, and the literally 2 million other former smokers out there with similar stories, that I continue to try to reveal the "rest of the story."