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Jourdan Vian

Jourdan Vian, La Crosse Tribune Reporter

The makers of one of the most popular e-cigarettes on the market plans to stop selling its flavors through brick-and-mortar stores, according to a Friday Wall Street Journal report.

Juul Labs will only sell the flavored liquid pods, which come in fruit medley, crème brulee, mango and a ton of other flavors, on its website, people familiar with the matter told the Journal. The site makes people go above and beyond to verify their age, requiring buyers to put in their name, date of birth, permanent address and the last four digits of their Social Security number. If they, understandably, don’t feel comfortable with giving out their SSN, they need to upload a copy of a valid government-issued ID for review by the company’s compliance team, according to its website.

The change is good news, according to La Crosse Area Health Initiative’s Judi Zabel; although she’s more enthusiastic about the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s expected proposal to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations across the country, which was reported in the Washington Post this week.

“I don’t know if that’s enough action to take, because again it’s really targeting kids,” Zabel said.

Between the fruity and sweet flavors, which fit right in with the candy flavors below the counter at any convenience store, and the advertising describing it as a safer alternative to traditional smoking, the companies certainly do their best to make it attractive.

I’m not sure how — when I see fruit flavors combined with tobacco products, I just think of the disgusting smell of grape-flavored cigarellos — but it’s working. According to preliminary data published in the Post, there was a 75 percent increase in e-cigarette use among American high school students this year.

I truly do not understand the e-cigarette trend.

As a card-carrying millennial, I’d rather be spending what little money I have on avocado toast and same-day delivery, preferably combined in the form of the same-day delivery of avocado toast.

I grew up in the era when smoking was the opposite of cool. If you smoked at my high school, people would say you stunk and avoid you like the plague. Even if they were too polite to say anything, you could rest assured everyone would be judging you.

I knew more people who smoked in college, but generally it was something people were ashamed of. They were trying, and failing, to quit cigarettes. First of all, nobody allowed smoking indoors anymore, and no one wanted to be stuck standing out in the cold while their friends were inside having a good time. Second of all, pretty much everyone I know had seen at least one person die from lung-related illness, which is neither quick nor clean and, frankly, seems awful. Plus, sorry to burst the bubble of any teens who happen to read this, people do not stop being judgmental after high school is over.

I say failing to quit because, holy crap, nicotine is addictive. It just sinks its dirty little claws in you and always tries to bring you down.

Zabel, who has spent considerably more time than me thinking about this, assures me that my anecdote is backed up by the statistics. Cigarette smoking is down to 7 percent of youths.

“They really get that cigarettes are harmful,” Zabel said.

The problem, she says, is that kids see smoking and using e-cigarettes as completely different things.

“Kids aren’t calling it tobacco. Juuling is its own verb,” she said.

Part of it is because they don’t even look alike. Juuls and other e-cigarettes can look like anything from a pen to a USB drive, and the pods and things look like they’re just flavored water.

Kids and young adults are also more likely to hear that electronic cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes and think that means it’s safe. Not breathing in tar doesn’t mean you’re not breathing in things you really ought not to be.

“There’s no such thing as a safe tobacco product, and I also don’t think people understand the damage that nicotine causes,” Zabel said.

In case you’re wondering, that damage includes harming the parts of the brain that control attention and memory. And there’s a serious amount of nicotine in Juuls — about the same amount in a single pod as in an entire pack of cigarettes, according to a Buzzfeed News report.

“Because it’s flavored, they are more likely to breath in deeper and longer,” Zabel said.

It’s absolutely wild to me that this is a thing we need to worry about now, but if you want to learn more, go ahead and visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ website about it, I’m going to go enjoy the ability to breath without help and thank my lucky stars I grew up before e-cigarettes were a thing.

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Jourdan Vian can be reached at or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.


City government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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