'We thought it was cool’: Ala. resident wants to put vaping addiction behind her

Updated: Sep. 12, 2019 at 2:01 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - What started out as “new” and “exciting” turned into an addiction 20-year-old Savannah West yearns to put behind her.

“I had no idea about addiction that could relate to using the JUUL," she said. "I just thought it was a fun flavor and that was it.”

As a high school student, West ran track and enjoyed hanging out with her friends. She first tried a JUUL product at 16 because of the “cool flavors” like mint and mango.

“And it was so easy to do. It felt so popular," West said. "We thought it was cool.”

West tried three times to quit vaping, with the most recent time being around this past August. However, she was not successful and said the addiction has changed her daily routine.

“[I am] always having to reach for it. Waking up and the first thing I want is to grab the JUUL and use it and when I’m driving especially. If I don’t have it, then sometimes I will turn around and go get it,” she said.

Dr. Adrienne Duke is an associate professor and extension specialist at Auburn University and recently helped publish an article on the risks associated with vaping. Duke said e-cigarette products are targeting young kids. She explained that students think it’s just “water vapor” and are not aware of the nicotine levels.

“The earlier you get them, the longer you have them as customers," Duke said.

Duke said the flavoring chemical used in the e-juice, which is the juice in the vaping products, is associated with the lung disease commonly called popcorn lung. This is a condition that inflames airways and can lead to difficult breathing.

President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday banning many e-cigarette flavors. Duke believes banning flavors is a “great first step” to deterring lots of youth from trying it.

And for Savannah West, she also agrees that the lack of flavors would have discouraged her from trying vaping products.

“If it was a tobacco flavor, I guarantee you that most kids would never have tried it," she said.

Beasley Allen Law Firm is representing Savannah West as they file a lawsuit against the company JUUL Labs and PAX labs. Court documents claim JUUL marketed a “Highly addictive product that could be packaged and sold to young people.”

Attorney Jere Beasley said the company was “playing on their adolescence."

Looking back, West said she would have avoided the product if she knew the dangers.

“I would have never picked it up," she continued to say. “It’s actually led me to when I can’t go and spend $10 on the pods, that I will go and smoke a cigarette and that was an addiction I never wanted.”

West says now she would tell high school students not to vape.

“Because it is addictive," West said. “Honestly there are other alternatives to do like bubble gum or candy if you want flavor.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health said Sept. 6 there were five possible cases of vaping-related illnesses reported in Alabama. National health officials have said there are about 450 possible cases of vaping related illnesses from 33 states and they urged people to stop vaping until they figure out the cause of the breathing illnesses.

ADPH said they are expecting to have updated numbers regarding the vaping illnesses Friday.

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