PAX Labs introduced its electronic cigarette, called JUUL, in June 2015, and although the marketing campaign wasn’t specifically geared toward teens, a former senior manager said that he and others in the company were well aware it could appeal to them. After the device hit the streets, teenagers immediately began posting images of themselves “JUULing” on social media.
The models used in JUUL’s original campaign were at least 21 years of age, but it wasn’t until late 2016 or early 2017 that the company decided the models should be over age 35 to be “better aligned” with a mission of focusing on adult smokers. And, it wasn’t until mid-2018 that the company changed its focus to be only on real people who had switched from cigarette smoking to JUULing. Whether JUUL is safer than cigarettes have been a hot topic of debate as of late.
A nationwide class action has been filed with ten named plaintiffs ages fourteen and up who live in different states. They’ve alleged that JUUL causes nicotine addiction and that it is “more potent than a cigarette,” allowing nicotine to enter the bloodstream at a high rate of speed. “How much nicotine is the JUUL actually delivering into the bloodstream of an average person?” Attorney Esfand Nafisi asked. “If it’s far more than a cigarette, we believe that’s information that ought to have been disclosed but was not.”
JUUL said it “heard the criticism” that teenagers might be attracted specifically to the names of its flavorings, so the company “responded by simplifying the names and losing the descriptors.” Instead of “cool cucumber,” for example, the name has been modified to be simply “cucumber.” Campaigns that could have potentially targeted teenagers are currently the subject of a federal investigation. The Food and Drug Administration announced it was investigating the company’s marketing strategy in April of this year.
The attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, is also investigating the company, stating she believes JUUL has been luring teenagers all along to try the product, causing many to subsequently become addicted to nicotine. However, James Monsees, one of the company’s co-founders, said selling JUULs to youth was “antithetical to the company’s mission.” The original campaign, contrary to what the former manager states, was aimed at persuading adult smokers in their 20s and 30s to try an alternative to cigarettes, but spokesperson Matt David said it “failed to gain traction on social media and failed to gain sales” and was abandoned after five months.
“From our perspective, this is not about getting adults to stop smoking,” said Healey. “This is about getting kids to start vaping and make money and have them as customers for life.” The former JUUL senior manager, who wishes to remain anonymous, agrees, stating it became evident that teenagers were either buying JUULs online or finding others who made the purchases for them. Some customers bought more JUUL kits on the website than they could ever use. “First, they just knew it was being bought for resale,” said the manager said. “Then, when they saw the social media, in fall and winter of 2015, they suspected it was teens.”
JUUL, in a letter responding to the FDA’s demand for discovery documents, said it had converted one million smokers to JUUL, but the company data was derived from self-reported surveys, and thus, is unverifiable. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, has long been hopeful that e-cigarettes or other similar devices, properly regulated, will prove a safer alternative to smoking. Before becoming F.D.A. commissioner, he sat on the board of directors for a retailer that sells e-cigarette products. “Two-thirds of adult smokers have stated they want to quit,” he said. “They know it’s hard, and they’ve probably tried many times to quit. We must recognize the potential for innovation to lead to less harmful products.”
However, there is limited evidence that vaping is any less harmful than traditional cigarette smoking, and some preliminary research has shown that those who turn to vaping instead of smoking are more likely to try cigarettes in the long-run.