College Connect Fall 2018: The Vaping Habit – Does It Cost More or Less than Cigarettes?

By Brendan Crowley

Parents, schools and the federal government have been wringing their hands over the nicotine-delivery sensation that’s sweeping the nation: the JUUL.

JUUL puffers may look like they’re sucking on a flash drive, but they’re getting a nicotine hit rivaled only by smoking tobacco.

Some turn to the JUUL to help kick their smoking habit. That’s especially common here in Missouri, where tobacco is part of the culture and isn’t subject to the steep taxes found in other states.

Some start with the JUUL to get the nicotine kick without the dangerous side effects associated with smoking tobacco. (I won’t get too into the weeds, but sucking vaporized nicotine into your lungs is still dangerous). That’s especially common among young people.

Never mind how they ended up on the JUUL train, a common refrain of vapers is that it’s a cheaper substitute for smoking cigarettes. That’s music to a college student with a nicotine habit and a tight budget, but is it true?

A JUUL pod – those little plastic things littered on the sidewalk that you’ve been stepping on – has roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. The pods will run you about $4 each after the initial $35 investment into the JUUL itself.

A four-dollar pack of cigarettes isn’t that far below the norm in Missouri, which sports a 17-cent-per-pack tobacco tax (the next lowest is Georgia at 37 cents, and the average among states is $1.70). But, somewhere like New Jersey ($2.70 per pack), a pack of Marlboros will run you more than $8.

If you’re paying half the price per pack, you’ll make up that $35 you spent upfront in no time, right? Well, that depends.

Nicotine, in JUULs and in cigarettes, is highly addictive. Plus, you grow more tolerant to nicotine’s effects the more you use it – same with caffeine, or any other drug. What starts out as a one-pod-a-week habit could quickly devolve into changing pods several times a day.

One JUUL user told the Columbia Missourian that when he started puffing over the summer, he only needed a few rips to get a nicotine buzz. Now, just a few months later, it takes him 15-20.

The same is true of cigarettes, of course, and there are plenty of folks who abuse several packs a day. I think it’s a lot more likely for a new user to get carried away with JUULs than cigarettes, since people don’t believe the JUUL is as dangerous.

But let’s pretend they’re equal: Is a habit of several pods a day cheaper than several packs a day? Sure, but it still isn’t cheap.

Say you settle on a pod a day: That’s $28 a week, $120 a month, $1,460 a year. By the time you graduate, you’ve dropped about $6,000 on nicotine. A University of Missouri student with a two-pod-a-day habit will be out about one year’s worth of in-state tuition over four years.

My advice:Keep nicotine out of your lungs and your money in your pocket. You’ll sleep better at night knowing you’re not on your way to blowing thousands on JUUL pods, and then you won’t feel like you need a nicotine kick the next day. Plus, the amount of money you’d save today is dwarfed by the amount you’d save in the long run by avoiding lung cancer and heart disease.

Brendan Crowley is a senior majoring in journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.


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