Juul stops sale of flavored e-cigarettes amid mounting pressure from FDA

Nov 14, 2018, 4:05 PM
Juul website in June, 2015....
The Juul Vapor homepage, as it appeared in June, 2015. Ads like this one have led the FDA to accuse Juul of targeting children. (Internet Archive/JUUL Labs Inc.)
(Internet Archive/JUUL Labs Inc.)

Juul, the most popular e-cigarette seller in the nation, announced on Tuesday that it will shut down retail sales of all flavored e-cigarettes and most of its social media accounts in an effort to discourage children from using their product.

The decision comes amidst a great deal of pressure from the FDA, who have openly accused Juul and other e-cigarette manufacturers of marketing their products to underage smokers.

The timing falls directly in line with a mandate the FDA released on Sept. 12, 2018, giving Juul 60 days to prepare and present a plan to keep their products out of their hands of young people.

Juul faces criticism for targeting children

Juul ad targeting kids.

One of the advertisements that helped put Juul under fire for targeting kids. (JUUL/JUUL Labs Inc.)

Two-and-a-half years ago, Juul’s marketing looked very different from the way it does today. Anyone visiting their website would see the picture above splashed on the front page: a hip, young person posed against a neon kaleidoscope of color.

In spite of CEO Kevin Burns’ claim that the company has the “ultimate goal of eliminating cigarettes”, there was little to nothing on the site encouraging older cigarette smokers to use the product to help them quit.

Instead, the site boasted that its product was “simple, smart, intensely satisfying” and advertised fruity flavors like Mango, Cucumber and Crème.

The campaign, it seems, worked. By July 2018, Juul was valued at over $15 billion, holding control more than 70 percent of the e-cigarette market.

“Juuling” started to slip into the American lexicon, the product becoming so ubiquitous that its name was starting to replace the word “vaping” altogether.

But as Juul’s brand rose, so did underaged smoking. In just one year, between 2017 and 2018, youth vaping nearly doubled, rising by a shocking 75 percent.

1 in 4 high school students now admit to using tobacco, according to the CDC, and the most popular way to do it is through vaping e-cigarettes.

Youth abuse of e-cigarettes, according to FDA Commissioner Scot Gottlieb, has “reached an epidemic proportion.”

As the FDA was concerned, the rise in youth smokers was no accident. It was by design. Youth-targeted ads and flavors were being used to appeal to kids in a way the tobacco industry hadn’t tried since the days of Joe Camel, and the FDA was determined to make it stop.

The FDA cracks down

A young smoker uses a Juul e-cigarette.

In this Wednesday, April 11, 2018 photo, an unidentified 15-year-old high school student displays a vaping device near the school’s campus in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

On Sept. 12, 2018, Gottlieb and the FDA issued Juul an ultimatum. They had 60 days to hand in a plan to stop young people from buying their product, they said, or else they would pull them off the shelves themselves.

That order came 62 days before Juul announced they would be pulling their flavored products off store shelves; the first of what we can expect will be a wide-reaching change in how every major e-cigarette manufacture markets their products.

Juul, after all, wasn’t the only company targeted by the FDA; they were just the largest. The same threats were doled out to MarkTen, Vuse, Blu, and Logic, the next four largest e-cigarette manufacturers in the United States.

More than 1,000 retailers that had been caught illegally selling e-cigarettes to minors, likewise, were given stern warnings from the FDA that things would have to change.

While Juul was preparing their plan, the FDA continued to heat up the pressure. They have publicly mused about the possibility of banning flavored e-cigarettes altogether, while lawmakers in New York outright declared an intention to ban them early next year.

Juul, for its part, has spent those 60 days doing everything it can to keep their product on the market. Shortly after the FDA’s ultimatum, according to the Wall Street Journal, the company hired Washington insiders to help them get ready to fight to keep their product alive in courts.

But flavored e-cigarettes, it seems, had to die to keep Juul alive. With the 60 days now up, the company has pulled the product from the shelves themselves and put strong measures in place to keep kids from buying them online.

The fight continues for Juul

Confiscated e-cigarettes.

In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo Marshfield High School Principal Robert Keuther displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Juul has presented a willing partnership with the FDA. It’s impossible to know how true the characterization really is; this, however, wouldn’t be the first time they’ve presented something the FDA forced them to do as their own idea.

On Oct. 2, 2018, the FDA announced that they had seized thousands of pages of documents about their sales and marketing practices in a series of what they described as “surprise inspections”.

Juul CEO Kevin Burns, however, reacted to the news by presenting the seizure as something his company had willingly participated in.

“We’ve now released over 50,000 pages of documents to the FDA,” he told the press, characterizing what the FDA called a “seizure” as a “constructive” meeting.

To meet the FDA’s demands, Juul has pulled its flavored products from the more than 90,000 retail outlets carrying them. The products are still available online, but anyone wanting to use the Juul website will, moving forward, have to provide their social security number and phone number before they can make a purchase.

Some young people, however, are already looking for ways around the ban. There are already questions up on social media sites asking how minors can get their hands on Juul. Tips are already out there, telling the young people how to get an adult to buy it for them, how to spot a gas station that’s lax with the ID checks, or how to buy them on eBay instead.

Indeed, eBay currently has several active auctions from people offering to sell flavored Juul products, most of which are seeing dozens of views every hour. These auctions, officially, violate the website’s policies. It remains to be seen, however, if they will be taken down.

The FDA crackdown, regardless, has definitely made it harder for young people to get their hands on e-cigarettes. Time will tell whether it truly impacts teen smoking habits.

More to the story

KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic talked about this on the air. If you missed the show live, you can still hear what they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music

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Juul stops sale of flavored e-cigarettes amid mounting pressure from FDA