I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I just never had any desire to. The 1990s anti-smoking PSAs, the demonstrations in middle school health class that show the effect of tar on your lungs, the fact that it always seemed like an expensive hobby were all enough to make it unappealing to me. It’s not that I don’t have vices! I do, and they’re bad for my physical and emotional well-being. It’s just that smoking cigarettes isn’t one of them.
It seems counterintuitive, then, that I would find myself irritable and quietly in the throes of nicotine addiction withdrawal in the cold early months of 2019. To explain how I ended up in this situation, I first have to explain how I came to be in possession of a little nicotine delivery device called a Juul. A year ago, on my 26th birthday, I was eating dinner in Williamsburg when my friend Max bestowed upon me a gift. We have a long history of giving each other very stupid gifts for our birthdays and Christmas (in 2017 I gave him a custom-made fidget spinner decorated with an image of a hunky Martin O’Malley in a Superman outfit. It said “O’Malley would have won.” I was very proud of this gift in particular). A Juul is a perfect kind of dumb, ironic gift that also has functional value. Obviously, I loved it conceptually, even though I was sure I’d never use it.
Until I did! This winter I was very sad. I was reeling from being simultaneously an object of derision and someone who some people praised when I quit my job in a way that was necessarily public and felt incredibly humiliating. It was dark and cold all the time because it was February. I was freelancing and had a lot of free time on my hands. I tell you all of this to explain where my head was at when I reorganized my bedroom and rediscovered the aforementioned Juul, its charger, and the mostly unused pack of tobacco-flavored Juul pods Max gave me in August. The Juul was dead—I had passed it around at my birthday party months before, the first and last time I’d used it. So I stuck it in its charger, and when it was full of life again I popped in one of the tobacco pods and took a hit. It was fun! I kept doing it. I liked the tingly feeling it gave me, and how mindless and easy it was. I was never hungry and I felt like I could focus better. It had all the effects of Adderall but with the added bonus of making me look like a huge dork smoking out of a flash drive. Suddenly, I had become what I’d always hated: a vaper.
At this point I must stop to address the questions that are probably on the minds of both of my parents, who separately subscribe to this newsletter: are you aware how stupid this sounds? How stupid you are for doing this? For getting addicted to nicotine? The answer is yes, but also, smoking actual cigarettes is arguably worse for you, so that’s that on that. This phase, where I vaped, lasted roughly six weeks. I am highly embarrassed by myself regularly, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than being an adult who is addicted to Juuling, so I didn’t disclose my new hobby to anyone—even my friends. I would slink into the corner bodega and buy new Juul pods every few days from the guy I usually only buy stamps and turkey sandwiches from. It was only when I ran into an old coworker at the bodega (unfortunately, everyone I know lives within a two-block radius of my apartment) and I was seen by someone who otherwise ostensibly respected me professionally while I was buying Juul pods that it occurred to me that perhaps I should cut it out.
Juul has long billed itself as a cessation device for adults, even when its cutesy and frankly delicious fruit-flavored pods became inevitably alluring to teens, but it had done the opposite for me. Here I was, a nonsmoker, suddenly addicted to nicotine. Deciding to take up Juuling and then invariably becoming chemically addicted to it was an ironic bit that went on for too long and was now having real-life effects. I was constantly crabby if I didn’t have my Juul in my hand; my throat was irritated. It reminded me of when Max and I brought a group of our friends to the now-defunct Senor Frogs in Times Square for Valentines Day 2016 — an objectively hilarious concept — and then somehow spent a collective $1100, at which point a funny, ironic bit became markedly less funny.
In March I threw out the last of my Juul pods, googled “nicotine withdrawal” and braced myself. For two weeks I was absolutely miserable; my migraines came back and wouldn’t respond to medicine, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, and I couldn’t sleep at night. Eventually I felt better and stopped feeling nauseous and cranky. As for Juul itself, the company now appears to be in the throes of a corporate meltdown; its CEO just stepped down, it agreed to stop advertising in the United States, a bunch of states have banned flavored pods, and people keep getting sick and dying from a mysterious vaping-related illness. My Juul is still sitting on my dresser, but seeing it now serves as a valuable reminder: as an adult capable of making incredibly dumb personal choices, I am also occasionally capable of rectifying them when I know better.