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(CNN) - Lucas McClain started smoking traditional cigarettes in high school, but switched to vaping after hearing that electronic cigarettes were a safer alternative.
His chosen vaporizer was Juul, the king of electronic cigarettes, which comes with a giant nicotine stroke.
- After a disease related to vaping, this teenager now has lungs as "someone 70 years"
Now 21, McClain wants to quit smoking so much that he is returning to the problem he ran away from: traditional cigarettes.
"Juul made my nicotine addiction worse," says Lucas McClain.
"Juul made my nicotine addiction worse," said the resident of Arlington, Virginia. "When I didn't have it for more than two hours, I was very anxious."
Although McClain knows the dangers of cigarettes - there is lung cancer in his family - he thinks it might be easier to quit cigarettes than his Juul. In addition, his mother continues to warn him about the mysterious diseases related to vaping that have made hundreds of people sick across the country.
So last month, McClain bought his first pack of cigarettes in years. Then he tweeted about it.
"I bought a juul to stop smoking cigarettes," he wrote, "now I'm smoking cigarettes to quit juul." It ended with this hashtag: #circleoflife (life cycle).
A Juul capsule, which provides about 200 puffs, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. On stressful days, McClain could finish a capsule in three hours, and when he and others discover how powerful these and other electronic cigarettes are, many try to quit.
Some return to traditional cigarettes, or use them for the first time, in a dangerous attempt to reduce their consumption of nicotine and finally abandon their vaping products.
"Isn't it ironic that to quit juul I bought cigarettes?" Says a Twitter user. Another user points out that it is "strange" that she used the device to stop smoking cigarettes, but now she is "much more addicted to my Juul than cigarettes."
"That sucks," said the user.
It's no surprise that some young people “are returning to the product they were trying to leave first,” said Pamela Ling, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies tobacco and its commercialization
But it is worrying because cigarettes contain toxins and chemicals that are dangerous to your health, he said.
Vaping could not be safe either. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (CDC) is investigating more than 450 cases of lung disease in 33 states, mostly among young people, possibly related to the vaporization of nicotine and marijuana. Six people have died. California is investigating at least 60 cases.
The tendency to return to smoking traditional cigarettes goes against the more constant discourse of the electronic cigarette industry, which says: vaping helps people to stop smoking cigarettes. In fact, Juul Labs, based in San Francisco, which controls 75% of the electronic cigarette market, says in its Mission that the company aims to eliminate cigarettes by giving adult smokers “the tools to reduce or eliminate their consumption completely ”.
In a statement sent by email, Juul did not directly address the decision of some of his users to return to cigarettes, but again he held on to the message that his products are “designed to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes to an alternative system of nicotine supply ”.
Ted Kwong, a spokesman for Juul, said the product is not designed to drive people away from nicotine or to treat nicotine dependence.
For those who criticize Juul's high nicotine content, Kwong said the capsules come in two intensities: 5% and 3% nicotine concentrations, allowing users to customize their "exchange trip."
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reprimanded Juul for promoting his products as safer than cigarettes without his authorization. He gave Juul 15 business days to respond.
Vaping has become a big business, with a global market projected to reach 48 billion dollars in 2023.
Whether smoke or steam, cigarette manufacturers earn anyway. Altria, which sells Marlboro and other tobacco brands in the United States, invested almost $ 13 billion in Juul last year for a 35% stake. Altria has proposed to rejoin Philip Morris International, a unit that sold in 2008.
Although the industry says that vaping is intended for adults, Juul and other vaping devices took off among young people about two years ago, when teenagers began taking the devices to school and teachers confused them with flash drives. Students smoked in the restrooms and hallways of the campus, and even in class when teachers were not watching.
The liquids in the devices contain nicotine and come in thousands of fruit flavors that appeal to children.
Last week, Michigan became the first state in the United States to ban sales of flavored electronic cigarettes in an attempt to end teenage vaping. In June, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors banned the sale of all electronic cigarettes by the beginning of 2020.
Many former smokers claim that vaping was the only thing that helped them quit cigarettes, but science is divided. Some studies have shown that many people who vape continue to smoke cigarettes.
The FDA has approved seven smoking cessation treatments, including patches, gum and pills. Electronic cigarettes are not among them, said Dr. Elisa Tong, associate professor of medicine at the University of California-Davis.
Tong said people who vape could be using more nicotine than they think. She understands why some choose to smoke again, but does not recommend it.
"What they are doing is reducing super high levels of nicotine," he said. "Unfortunately, manufacturers don't have a manual on how to leave their devices."
Dr. Amanda Graham, senior vice president of innovations at Truth Initiative, a tobacco advocacy group, said she is seeing “despair and wrong approaches” of teenagers and young adults trying to break free from nicotine.
"Young people are looking in the dark for what seems logical," Graham said. "But there is no safe level of smoking cigarettes."
Earlier this year, Graham's group launched a digital program to help teenagers and young adults abandon their vaping devices. Since then, 41,000 people between the ages of 13 and 24 have signed up for “This is Quitting,” which sends them advice and support through text messages.
Chris Gatus of Whittier, Calif., Switched from traditional cigarettes to Juul because he thought the device would help him quit smoking, he said.
But because his Juul is always stuck to the palm of his hand, he found himself using it everywhere and all the time.
"I forgot what it is to not consume nicotine," said Gatus, 21.
He smoked cigarettes again this year after noticing his growing addiction, but that only resulted in the use of both. Now he is testing different vaping devices, looking for something less hard than Juul or cigarettes, he said.
Last week, Ryan Hasson of New York City threw his Juul after experiencing severe chest pains and difficulty breathing while exercising, and after hearing about the growing number of diseases related to the vaporizer. He had never felt such strong symptoms when he smoked traditional cigarettes, he said.
"I don't plan to smoke again, but if I had to choose, I'd rather buy cigarettes from a Juul," said 25-year-old Hasson.
The same goes for his friends, he said.
"I think a lot of people quit smoking altogether or smoke cigarettes again," he said. "They are waking up to the reality that this may not be as safe as we once thought."
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit news service that covers health problems. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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