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It was a bluebird December day on Mammoth Mountain in 2017. I was skiing with my boyfriend at the time when he took a tumble and found himself lying in the snow. As he gathered himself to get back up, something in the snow next to him caught the sunlight - a lost JUUL.

We were fresh out of college and had seen these USB-like pocket-hookahs around San Francisco. They were sleek, discreet, and a coveted party accessory—supposedly harmless, popular with the cool kids, and fun to use. I had “hit” one from various friends on nights out in the city, but never had any interest in acquiring my own. Feeling excited about his discovery in the snow (and despite my objections to puffing a stranger’s snow-JUUL…), he decided to dust off the new toy and give it a little test puff. To our surprise, it still worked. He pocketed it.

Back in town, we bought new Mango pods and a charger, and held on to the device for the rest of the weekend and our 8-hour drive back to San Francisco. It kept us entertained for the weekend, but also kept leaking nasty Mango JUUL juice into our mouths, so we decided the snow had broken it and tossed it when we got back home. I thought this would be the end of my JUUL journey, but something had shifted.

Before the snow JUUL, my identity was “someone who would never have her own JUUL, but might dabble on occasion.” My relationship with nicotine was comfortable and infrequent—a little bit was fun and ok, as long as it wasn’t cigarettes and wasn’t my own (I have multiple family members who died from smoking-related cancer, so smoking was a big no for me).

After the snow JUUL, I unwittingly updated my identity to “someone who had a JUUL, but just for the weekends.” When the next weekend rolled around, I bought a brand new JUUL of my own - besides, we still had perfectly good pods left.

skier on mountain holding broken juul

A slippery slope

I lived within the idea that my JUUL was “just for the weekends” for over a year. I had seen a couple of friends get sucked deep into their dependency—they couldn’t make it through a full meal without hitting it at the table—and I was conscious to distance myself from that. I was happy to put my JUUL in my desk drawer on Sunday morning and leave it there until Friday. I wouldn’t touch it. I wouldn’t even think about it.

Then, one day I was working from home and feeling particularly groggy. I knew the trope of writers and professors smoking cigarettes while they worked—how could I forget Carrie Bradshaw chain smoking her way through a particularly emotional column?—but I had never explored that use-case for my JUUL. I decided I’d give it a try.

That was the beginning of the end. Once the JUUL shifted from a party accessory to a work stimulant, there was no way it was sitting untouched from Sunday to Friday.

I started bringing it with me everywhere, realizing I could lean on nicotine for essentially everything… it was a fantastic companion on my 90 minute commute from San Francisco to Mountain View. It could help me wake up. It could help me de-stress. 

I became “someone who JUULs.” For a while, it was fun. I felt like I was part of a club. Those of us in the club would share chargers, lend pods, make eye contact with a nod of kinship—it was what I imagine the smokers circle outside the bar felt like, but without the judgment, shame, or having to physically step outside. I had seen a quote that the founders of JUUL, as smokers, wanted to keep all of the things they liked about smoking while removing the downsides; it felt like they had done it. At parties, everyone wanted to hit my JUUL. Coworkers from Australia were blown away to see one in real life. When the silver JUUL came out, I was genuinely proud to carry mine—it felt like being the first of your friends to get the new purple iPhone.

But it wasn’t all roses. I developed a nearly persistent cough which I blamed on allergies. If I was out and my JUUL died, I wouldn’t be present until I found a charger. I started bringing my charger with me and would shamelessly charge at bars and restaurants. If I forgot it, I’d be distraught to the point of returning home or buying a new one. As a proudly independent person in most other ways, I started resenting how dependent I was.

I knew I was hooked, but I didn’t want my friends and family to see just how hooked I was, so I still played it off like it was still just a fun party accessory. When we were out at night, I’d vape freely, but I limited how much I hit it in front of friends during the day. Unless I was with fellow JUULers, I’d get up and smoke it in the bathroom midway through dinner. I’d hit it in the bathroom at work. The most egregious, in the bathroom of an airplane (TSA if you’re reading this, no you didn’t).
Eventually, I saw clearly that my initial belief that vapes were fun and harmless wasn’t entirely accurate when kids started dying from “popcorn lung”. This thing wasn’t safe—it was cigarettes 2.0. Being someone who JUULed wasn’t fun anymore. It was dangerous, and I was sick of hiding in bathrooms.

Perpetually quitting

I finally decided I’d quit, but couldn’t commit to it. I figured I’d just throw my JUUL out and be done with it. But then I’d be drunk and pass a smoke shop; it was so easy to buy a new one… so I’d drop another $20 and throw it away after the weekend. I was burning cash and hated myself for it. This continued for months.

When I moved into an apartment with two other people who also vaped, all of our quit attempts got derailed.

Like most of our peers who vaped, we all wanted to quit. We’d quit the same day, and then one person would slip up days later and we’d all fail together. We tried switching to an allowance of one cigarette at the end of the night instead of vaping… but I hated the smell and couldn’t stick with it.

I hid a vape in my makeup bag “for emergencies” and would sneak it a couple times a day… if they didn’t see me doing it, it didn’t count. When we went out, someone would crack and buy one “for the night”, or we’d scan the room for any friends with a vape and immediately bum a puff… that also didn’t count. We were all half quitting, but half not caring because at least we were stuck in this together.


Wake-up call

When I moved out of that house, I was no longer able to normalize my habit through my roommates. I was harshly reminded that I really wanted to quit, but I still couldn’t do it.

Finally, in spring 2021, I got the kickstart I needed: I broke my ankle. As a generally active and outgoing person, this was devastating. I wanted to heal as fast as possible and started researching ways I could speed up my recovery. I found some studies pointing to smoking's negative impacts on bone growth. That was it. I had to take quitting seriously this time.

I started asking around on ways other friends had quit, and my close friend (and now Jones co-founder) suggested nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) mints. I had never even considered NRT as something to help me quit, because I was so committed to the idea that I could do it on my own, and I associated Nicorette with old chain smokers. I decided to give it a real try, but also make some other changes to my environment and routine that I hadn't tried before.

I knew that previous attempts had failed because it was too easy to get my hands on a new vape, and too easy to justify going buying a new one. I emptied all of my purses, jackets, and drawers to ensure none were in the house. I changed my walking route to avoid my usual vape shop. I bought a water bottle with a straw top for oral fixation during the work day. I avoided going out drinking with friends who vaped for a few weeks. Despite the ugly packaging, I committed to taking NRT anytime I had a craving.

I made it a few days feeling better than I had on any of my cold-turkey attempts. Within days, that cough from my “allergies” went away. It was such a relief to finally feel like I was making progress, which kept me motivated to stick with it. Within weeks, I felt lighter, physically and emotionally, and proud of myself for doing something hard. The newfound confidence and momentum carried over into other parts of my life.

When I reflect on why this final attempt stuck, there are three key insights: 1) shifting my mindset to take quitting seriously, 2) realizing that my environment & habits were more important than shear willpower (and taking steps to adjust them), and 3) being open to NRT.

Before researching strategies to build new habits, I assumed that our habits come from our identities, but the truth is that it’s the other way around (this is now proven in behavioral psychology—highly recommend James Clear & BJ Fogg). With the help of NRT, new routines, support from friends & one broken ankle (I don’t recommend this part), I was finally able to gain the momentum I needed to update my identity to where I am now: a Quitter.



Today, I consider myself a Quitter, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t touched a vape since I quit. To me, being a Quitter means being able to choose how I interact with nicotine. If I want to bring a vape to a music festival or take a puff on a night out, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. Some days I go totally nic-free. On stressful days, I take more NRT. The world of dependency isn’t black and white. Armed with NRT and a deeper understanding of my own triggers and habits, I’ve reached a sustainable equilibrium. What matters now, is that it’s my choice.