Vapers Seek Relief From Nicotine Addiction In — Wait For It — Cigarettes

Lucas McClain started smoking cigarettes in high school but switched to vaping after he heard e-cigarettes were a safer alternative.

His vape of choice became the Juul, the king of electronic cigarettes — which comes with a king-size nicotine hit.

Now 21, McClain wants to quit so badly that he’s turning back to the problem he fled in the first place: good old-fashioned cigarettes.

“Juul made my nicotine addiction a lot worse,” says Lucas McClain, who is now back on cigarettes. “When I didn’t have it for more than two hours, I’d get very anxious.” (Lynne Shallcross/KHN)

“Juul made my nicotine addiction a lot worse,” the Arlington, Va., resident said. “When I didn’t have it for more than two hours, I’d get very anxious.”

Even though McClain knows the dangers of cigarettes — lung cancer runs in his family — he thinks it might be easier to kick cigarettes than his Juul. Plus, his mom keeps warning him about the mysterious vaping-related illnesses that have sickened hundreds across the country.

Lucas McClain holds a pack of cigarettes and his Juul at his home in Arlington, Va. McClain is back to smoking cigarettes in the hope of quitting the Juul. (Lynne Shallcross/KHN)

So last month, McClain bought his first pack of cigarettes in years. Then he tweeted about it.

“Bought a juul to quit smoking cigarettes,” he wrote, “now I’m smoking cigarettes to quit the juul.” He ended with this hashtag: #circleoflife.

One Juul pod, which provides about 200 puffs, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. On stressful days, McClain could finish a pod in three hours — and as he and others figure out just how potent these and other e-cigarettes are, many want out.

Some are turning back to combustible cigarettes — or taking them up for the first time — in a dangerous bid to lower their nicotine intake and ultimately get off their vapes.

“Isn’t it ironic that to quit juul I bought cigarettes,” says one Twitter user. Another points out that it’s “strange” that she used the device to quit smoking cigarettes but is now “far more addicted to my Juul than I ever was to cigs.”

“It sucks,” she said.

It isn’t a complete surprise that some young people are “going back to the product they were trying to quit in the first place,” said Pamela Ling, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco who studies tobacco and its marketing.

But it is worrisome because cigarettes contain toxins and chemicals that are dangerous to their health, she said.

Vaping may not be safe either. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating more than 450 cases of lung disease in 33 states — mostly among young people — possibly linked to vaping nicotine and marijuana. Six people have died. California is investigating at least 60 cases.

The back-to-smoke trend flies in the face of the e-cig industry’s most insistent PR pitch: Vaping helps people quit smoking cigarettes. In fact, San Francisco-based Juul Labs, which commands 75% of the e-cig market, says in its mission statement that the company aims to eliminate cigarettes by giving adult smokers “the tools to reduce or eliminate their consumption entirely.”

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