A year with the PAX Labs Juul vaporizer

Nicotine vaporizer companies have a bit of a conundrum. While, legally, they can’t market themselves as smoking cessation devices, most vapers are current or former cigarette smokers. In fact, the CDC says that fewer than 4 percent people who had never tried traditional cigarettes have ever tried using a vaporizer.

I’m a smoker. It’s disgusting. I hate it. I’ve quit once before and then started up again, and I’m currently dedicating myself to quitting one last time. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. And the Juul, in my opinion, is a huge part of that process.

But before we go any deeper, this isn’t a review of the Juul against other vaporizers. This is, rather, a review of the Juul vaporizer as I view it now, after a year of using it alongside analog cigarettes and trying desperately to replace them with this little vape.

The Good

As I said, this isn’t a comparison of the Juul vs. other vaporizers. I’ve tried a few, but none for an extended period of time. That said, as a smoker, the Juul is actually comparable to actual cigarettes in terms of taste and sensation.

That’s because Pax examined the way that smoking cigarettes actually feels, and built the technology around replicating that sensation. The company uses salts found in natural tobacco leaves in the Juul pods to replicate a similar taste/sensation to cigarettes, which makes this one of the best cigarette alternatives I’ve personally tried.

In fact, the tobacco flavor leaves (a much cleaner) taste of cigarette in the mouth, which is a nice touch for folks who are looking to switch from real cigs to e-cigs. Juul pods come in a variety of flavors, including mint, mango, creme brûlée, fruit medley, and, of course, tobacco.

Depending on usage habits, the battery lasts about a day, and takes about an hour to recharge using the USB charger, which is included with the vape and also sold separately for $9.99.

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The Juul is slim, easy to fit in a pocket, and isn’t quite as conspicuous as other, more heavy-duty vaporizers on the market. It has no physical buttons, but it does have a single LED indicator to tell you whether or not the battery is charged. The pods themselves are easy to change and aren’t as messy as vaporizers that require you to refill manually.

Plus, Juul Pods have become a bit easier to find. What once was primarily available online only can now be found in the lots of vape shops, as well as a handful of corner stores/bodegas (at least in New York).

Overall, this $50 device has become a mainstay in my pocket.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the Juul isn’t as reliable as I’d like it to be. Sometimes, in places less metropolitan than New York, it can be a bit difficult to find pods.

And while it doesn’t require exhaustive cleaning like some vaporizers do, it can start to malfunction (especially during charging) if the connectors between the Juul and the charger aren’t clean. For someone trying to quit smoking, it can be truly infuriating to wake up in the morning, Jonesing for that first puff, only to find that the Juul hasn’t been charging all night.

This thing only comes with a one-year warranty, so as it gets older and in need of better cleaning, it’s no longer covered by the Juul warranty, meaning you might need to pick up a new one. (I’m getting very close to this point.) And, every once in a while, you find yourself with a leaky pod. The taste of pure Juul juice in your mouth is one to vigorously avoid. Trust me.

“The good news is that JUUL clearly resonates with adult smokers who want to transition away from cigarettes,” said Juul Labs CEO Tyler Goldman. “In a short period of time, we have sold over 1 million JUUL devices and become the #2 product in the market. This large adoption rate has happened very quickly, however, which has us playing catch-up on supply. We’ve been investing heavily in our supply chain to address the rapid demand and have intentionally limited distribution until we can adequately serve all JUUL customers.”

The last, and final complaint: Juul delivers a relatively high level of nicotine — one pod is about the equivalent of a full pack of cigarettes — the company doesn’t offer any way to step down the level of nicotine you’re intaking.

Obviously, this has to do with the fact that Pax isn’t in the smoking cessation business but rather the Nicotine addiction business. But it would be nice if you could choose between varying levels of Nicotine.

The Uncertain

Legally speaking, the e-cigarette industry is in flux. For as long as they’ve been around, e-cig companies have not been regulated by the FDA, the same way that smoking cessation products (like patches and gums) or cigarettes have been. That’s changing.

The FDA is requiring all e-cig manufactures register as tobacco products by November 8, 2018. Part of the reason for the new regulation has to do with the fact that minors are picking up e-cigs — the CDC says that 3 million middle and high school students in the U.S. reported using e-cigs within the past 30 days of being surveyed. That said, teenage vaping numbers have fallen steeply after years of growth.

But FDA regulation, while costly (the application fee alone is more than $300,000) for the companies that need approval, makes sense if implemented with clarity and enough time to complete application. The FDA regulates anything you put in or on your body, and e-cigs are no different, whether or not they’re used to treat nicotine addiction. I, for one, as a vape user would appreciate knowing that the FDA had taken a close look at the products I’m using to ensure that they are, in fact, much safer than cigarettes, as advertised.

“We believe it’s to the benefit of the public that the FDA is regulating the category,” said Goldman. “We are going through the process with FDA and are working productively with them.”

However, the new regulation is full of ‘mays’ and ‘cans’ instead of ‘musts’ and it’s extremely expensive for most vaporizer companies, many of which are independent small organizations. In fact, even those companies who have turned in their expensive applications are only granted one extra year for the FDA to approve it. In other words, if the FDA doesn’t approve an application that was turned in by the deadline, simply because the queue is too long, that product must come off the shelves.

These new rules are causing wide uncertainty within the industry. Vape shops are considering closing their doors, and there is the potential that many vaporizers (possibly including my little Juul) may simply go off the market, if not for lack of approval then for the financial burden of getting FDA approval.

“For vape companies, November 8, 2018 may mark their last day in business,” said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. “For consumers who use refillable vapor products or non-tobacco flavors, this rule will likely make their go-to products unavailable for legal purchase come November 2018.”

This uncertainty makes it difficult to rely on these vaporizers as smoking cessation tools, which (whether or not the e-cig companies like it) is what they are.