Is Juuling Really Becoming an Epidemic

    Juul: almost every high-schooler and young adult recognize that name. Unfortunately, vaping has become the new popular bad habit young people are picking up, and in recent months some have even been referring to it as an epidemic.

    For most of its existence, the e-cigarette company has dominated the vaping industry, and in its prime accumulated over half of the wealth that existed within the market. Historically, Juul is the fastest growing e-cigarette business. In 2017, the company generated 224 million dollars in revenue. The following year, they made over one billion dollars. Further, Juul Labs entirely expected these profits to triple these results by February of 2019. For a short period of time, Juul made its founders billionaires, coined a new verb and resurrected a dying cigarette market.


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    Despite this overwhelming success, however, as of today Juul is very quickly watching their bankrolls vanish. What was once a combined 38 billion dollar nicotine giant is now facing Congressional investigations, criticism from the FDA and an uncanny push to ban their products in countries all around the world—including the United States. So, how did a product that was supposedly designed to aid traditional tobacco users in quitting their destructive habit turn into a war against the e-cigarette market? Further, what is in store for Juul going forward? Will the company die and never restore its influence on the smoker’s community?

Returning to the numbers, during a rising concern within the public sphere, Juul’s sales and stock values were exploding. By 2017, the now popular e-cigarette company had a stronghold on over a third of the vaping market. As November approached that same year, Juul had no competitors; it was the single best-selling e-cigarette available. Naturally, as the devices’ popularity grew, so did the criticisms. Before the turn of the year, teen vaping became a national news headline for months, in which media outlets across the country were reporting that high-school students were vaping in school—sometimes even in class. Moreover, there was one common denominator among the array of reports: most, if not all devices being used were Juul’s. This would ultimately prove to be the beginning of the end to the new crave among teens.

Given the excessive attention directed towards Juul, it was inevitable for the FDA to launch an undercover investigation on their advertising techniques and the unprecedented amount of teen smokers since the rise of Big Tobacco. The FDA labeled it as the “largest coordinated enforcement effort” in agency history, initially issuing more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers for illegally selling Juuls and other similar e-cigarette products to minors. The biggest hit to Juul’s credibility as a progressive e-cigarette company that strives to help adult smokers has yet to come, however. The health agency surprised Juul at its headquarters in August, 2018 to seize thousands of pages of documents: this revealed the companies true intentions. The FDA discovered in-depth descriptions of old business techniques utilized by Big Tobacco within these seized records, concluding that Juul was borrowing marketing ideas from smoking advertisements dating back to the 1950s and 60s—a fact that surprised literally no one. Very soon afterwards, in conjunction with new reports of a 78 percent increase in vaping among American high-school students, the FDA announced plans going forward to curb flavored-e-cigarette sales.

Just as the trend shows, however, despite the growing controversy, Juul’s sales continued to steadily rise. In fact, Juul had reached success that was bigger than ever. Altria—the parent company of multiple big tobacco brands—purchased a whopping 35 percent stake in Juul for 12.8 billion dollars. It was at this time that the controversial business hit 1 billion dollars in revenue, continuing its seemingly unstoppable pattern of growth.

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Finally, the most recent controversy surrounding Juul may have been the final destructive blow. In recent months, there have been thousands of reports regarding vaping-related illnesses and diseases—this took a hit to many e-cigarette companies, including Juul. But, Juul is particularly implicated in this outburst of sickness because several of these case reports involve individuals reporting that they were using a Juul when they became ill. The disconnect within this evidence, however, is that there are a lot of counterfeit products that are labeled Juul, when in fact they actually are not. As a result, when patients claim explain vaping led to their sickness, many use the word “Juul” as a verb, and say that they're “Juuling.” Even though in all likelihood they were using a difference device, the CDC investigators reported the outbreak in illness was a direct result of individuals using Juul’s e-cigarettes. 

In accordance to Juul’s history thus far, the facts are loose at best. The long-term health effects of vaping remain unknown; a vast majority of the vaping-related lung illness have been linked back to black market products containing THC. However, some of the reported cases involve people who claim they use only nicotine products, while still others said they used both nicotine and marijuana products. All of this has compounding evidence makes figuring out the cause behind the outbreaks nearly impossible. At the end of the day, even though neither the FDA nor CDC has been able to find a clear culprit, Juul continues to fall under intense scrutiny from a variety of interest groups. This doesn’t even take into account the recent propose to ban all flavored e-cigarette products by the Trump administration.

    Perhaps the correct question to ask, however, is how did Juul manage to get so popular in the first place? And, how did they become such a media sensation in a way that other businesses can’t wrap their head around? Well, it all starts with the design. Juul Labs has always claimed that their product is designed to help adult smokers quit, and so it has been marketed as such. With this, it would be counter-productive to design an e-cigarette that reminded individuals of a regular cigarette. So, Juul developed something that resembles a device you would plug into your computer. Therefore, an easy to use, sleek design allows for a much more discreet way of smoking, making it easy for teens to hide their beloved Juul’s from their teachers and parents. Furthermore, many would argue that the variety of flavored pods—which contain over one-pack-of-cigarettes-worth of nicotine—contribute to the appeal to youth. Some of these exotic flavors include mango, cool mint, fruit medley and crème.

    Some of the very first judgement errors that Juul made was creating these advertisements that clearly include people who immediately appear very young, advertising its devices as being cool, using taglines such as “smoking evolved” and picturing them on flashy, very colorful backgrounds. Even at their sponsored events, the company was giving their products away either for free or for just a few dollars. With this, it is inarguable that you have the potential to create a desire among young people to smoke, who maybe otherwise would never have thought about getting involved in such a risky behavior, particularly with an addictive drug like nicotine. Before long, we are suddenly looking at an opportunity for them to be interested in a new, novel, seemingly cool and extremely discreet product.

    So, what can be done about this problem? How can we get these devices out of the hands of progressively younger and younger kids? Well, some have suggested an all-out ban on flavored products, as teens consistently say they wouldn’t vape if the variety of flavors didn’t exist. The Trump administration is the main party backing this legislation, however, many analysts say it isn't likely that there will be enough support to pass a nationwide ban anytime soon; at the very least, a nationwide ban isn’t likely to happen for a few years. Furthermore, a complete ban on all flavored e-cigarette products could also hurt more people than it helps. Public health professionals say that this type of ban could create an unregulated black market—similar to the rise of black market THC products—which could be much more dangerous. With that said, the most effective answer is most likely stricter regulations, both from the national government and from companies themselves. Unfortunately, Juul and many other tobacco companies have historically proven to be untrustworthy, ultimately choosing maximum profit over regulating their own products. No matter the solution, someway, somehow, a third party must get involved to finally put an end to the seemingly never-ending war against teen vaping.