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I bought my dad a Juul e-cigarette to see if he'd give up his Marlboros. Here's what happened

Key Points
  • I gave my 69-year-old father a Juul e-cigarette to see whether it would help him give up his Marlboros.
  • Then the text messages started coming.
Casper LaVito smoking a Juul
Angelica LaVito | CNBC

My dad isn't much of a texter, but he's been a smoker for 35 years.

I bought him a Juul in November to see if he would finally stop smoking. Now he texts me every day with progress reports.

"Day 24 new beginning hoorah love dad."

Cigarettes were always part of my childhood memories with my dad. He was always trying to quit, even eating carrots once to try to mimic the experience of holding a cigarette. That didn't last.

Casper LaVito, 69, recently cut down to a few cigarettes a day. But doctors say even one a day isn't healthy.

As a health-care reporter, I've written about how hard it is to quit. Roughly 68 percent of adult smokers want to quit and about 55 percent have tried, but only 7.4 percent succeeded, according to federal data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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E-cigarettes are marketed to smokers as a way to satisfy their nicotine fix without all the harm that comes from cigarettes. I know we don't understand the long-term health consequences of using e-cigarettes. But we do know they are inherently less risky than smoking conventional cigarettes, which are the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S.

One e-cigarette maker in particular, Juul, has overtaken the market over the past year. I've followed Juul's rise, as well as the backlash resulting from its wild popularity among teenagers.

I wrote a story about adults who quit smoking by switching to Juul and it got me thinking. What if I bought my dad one? I pitched him the idea and he agreed. I live in New York and he lives in suburban Chicago, so we waited until I was home for Thanksgiving to start our experiment.

At home, I bought him a starter kit. I opened the box to show him how to assemble the device. I read through the four flavors — creme, fruit mint and tobacco — but when I reached fruit, he didn't want to hear any of the others. Juul has gotten criticized for its kid-friendly fruity flavors, so I was surprised to find my 69-year-old father wanted to try one.

He took his first hit after we charged it. I asked him if now he would throw out the pack of Marlboro Lights he had sitting in his apartment. He said no. He wasn't totally sold on Juul.

I left the Juul with him, thinking it would collect dust and asking him to send updates.

He called the next day, saying he liked "the e-cigarette." By Friday, he said he was still lighting a cigarette every day out of habit, taking a drag and putting it out.

Nine days later, he called and proclaimed, "No more cigarettes."

Then came the texts.

"Day 2 no smokes hoorah love Dad thanks"

"Day 11 going strong love dad"

"Day 16 holy cow unbelievable love dad"

"Special report. Food tastes better"

The journalist in me was skeptical. I would do my own investigation when I went home for Christmas.

Sure enough, he showed up to Christmas Eve with his Juul. After dinner, he pulled out his Juul instead of a cigarette. After our annual carriage ride, he used his Juul. He wasn't kidding. No more cigarettes.

I asked him what happened. He said after a few days using both, he realized it was stupid. Why use the Juul and still smoke?

My dad's been perpetually "quitting" for years. I don't think he would ever truly quit on his own.

It's now been a month since our experiment began. Dad says he hasn't smoked a cigarette in 30 days. It takes him one-and-a-half days to go through a pod. Each pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, meaning he's consuming more nicotine than he was when he was smoking a few cigarettes every day.

Eventually he says he wants to wean himself off the Juul and free himself from nicotine altogether. For now, he seems happy puffing on his mint Juul pods.

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