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FDA Investigation of Adolescent Juuling Could Endanger Adult Smokers

What if the e-cigarette features that appeal to teenagers also appeal to grownups?

Juul LabsJuul LabsJuul, a discreet, streamlined e-cigarette developed by the innovative vaporizer company Pax Labs, is pretty cool. That's a problem for Juul Labs, which spun off from from Pax last year, because teenagers like cool things. Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration, responding to anecdotal reports of students who juul during school, announced that it is investigating whether the company is marketing its products to minors.

New York Times reporter Kate Zernike already seems to have made up her mind. She says the FDA wants to "get manufacturers to stop marketing e-cigarettes to young people," which implies that manufacturers are in fact doing that.

With respect to Juul, that charge seems pretty implausible. The company's website, which asks visitors to affirm that they are at least 21 (the minimum purchase age for e-cigarettes in some jurisdictions), emphasizes that the rectangular vaping devices, which resemble elongated flash drives and can be charged via USB ports, are "for smokers...by design," delivering nicotine doses similar to those from conventional cigarettes. "JUUL was created to be a satisfying alternative to cigarettes," the website says. "JUUL was founded by former smokers...with the goal of improving the lives of the one billion adults smokers. We envision a world where fewer people use cigarettes, and where people who smoke cigarettes have the tools to reduce or eliminate their consumption entirely, should they so desire."

Juul is clearly positioning its e-cigarettes as harm-reducing alternatives for grownups who smoke, which the FDA itself has recognized as a potential boon for public health. The models on Juul's website are all in their 20s or older, and so are the consumers featured in the video testimonials. The selling points touted by Juul—"simple," "clean," "satisfying"—are consistent with the market the company says it is trying to reach. There is nothing about Juul's pitch that seems geared to adolescents or even adult nonsmokers. "Our ecommerce platform utilizes unique ID match and age verification technology to make sure minors are not able to access and purchase our products online," Juul says.

Some of the retailers selling Juul vaporizers have been less punctilious. The FDA says it is conducting "a large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes—specifically JUUL products—to minors at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers." So far the agency has sent 40 warning letters to retailers, including convenience stores across the country, for selling e-cigarettes to customers younger than 18, the minimum age under FDA regulations.

In her Times story, Zernike erroneously reports that the retailers "violated the law preventing sales of vaping devices to anyone under 21." There is no such federal law, although a few states and cities, including California and New York City, have enacted that rule. In most places the minimum purchase age is 18.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb worries that "e-cigarettes have become wildly popular with kids." Whether that is true depends on your definition of "wildly popular." In 2016, the most recent year for which data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey are available, 11 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes during the previous month, down from 16 percent in 2015. Less than 3 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes "frequently," meaning they report use on 20 or more of the previous 30 days.

If e-cigarettes did not exist, teenagers would not be using them. In that sense, companies such as Juul are absolutely responsible for underage vaping. (Then again, teenagers who vape might otherwise be smoking, which would expose them to much bigger hazards.) Juul likewise can fairly be charged with making sleek, convenient electronic gadgets that appeal to teenagers as well as adults. The same goes for the flavors of its e-liquid pods.

"Juul comes in kid-friendly flavors like mango and crème brûlée," Zernike says. But these are also adult-friendly flavors, as demonstrated by surveys in which grownups say they like them and report that flavor variety is an important factor in switching from smoking to vaping. Banning e-liquid flavors in the name of deterring adolescent vaping therefore would endanger adult smokers by making e-cigarettes less appealing to them.

The FDA is asking Juul for "documents related to product marketing; research on the health, toxicological, behavioral or physiologic effects of the products, including youth initiation and use; whether certain product design features, ingredients or specifications appeal to different age groups; and youth-related adverse events and consumer complaints associated with the products." Juul promised to cooperate with the FDA and "continue working with all interested parties to keep our product away from youth." Gottlieb says he is determined to figure out "why kids are finding these products so appealing—and address it."

What if the things that make Juul products appealing to teenagers are the same as the things that make them appealing to adults? No doubt high school students would be less likely to use bad-tasting, ugly, clunky, inconvenient, and inefficient e-cigarettes. But so would adult smokers. Mandating less appealing e-cigarettes means discouraging smokers from making a switch that would dramatically reduce the health risks they face. The FDA should not sacrifice the lives of adult smokers on the altar of child protection.

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  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Suck your robocock somewhere else, vapers!

  • ||

    There is no vaping, Only Juul!

  • BYODB||

    It looks like Zuul finally hired that marketing group I suggested.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Pax Labs needs to hire a CEO who is the daughter of a Senator, and then ALL of their problems will go away!

  • SQRLSY One||

  • BYODB||

    I remember that like it was yesterday, one congresscritter ripped her and her company a new asshole over the fact that they wanted the government in their business, and got it good and hard. One of the better politician rants I've ever seen, but he wasn't from Texas so I didn't bother to remember their name.

  • target||

    "asking Juul for "documents related to product marketing; research on the health, toxicological, behavioral or physiologic effects of the products, including youth initiation and use; whether certain product design features, ingredients or specifications appeal to different age groups; and youth-related adverse events and consumer complaints associated with the products."

    What if they don't have any of those?

  • LarryA||

    They submit the checklist with all the boxes checked and a gigabyte or two of documents. Nobody's going to actually read them.

  • target||

    I didn't know if this was a new requirement for selling a product now or wishfull thinking on the FDAs part.

    Does Glock put their new guns in front of a pannel of 6 year olds and ask them which features appeal to them, then remove those features for inticing children to try 3 gun competitions?

  • LarryA||

    The Really Stupid Part of all this is that the F&DA would do a lot more good by writing grants to Juul to provide free vape starter-kits to teen smokers.

    The Really Clueless Part of all this is that if the F&DA wants to make Juul totally uncool all they have to do is run a couple of ads telling kids vaping is good for them. Nothing that grownups think is good can ever, ever be cool.

  • ||

    I kinda wish Juul would come out with a product that contained my pre-teen son's asthma medication.

    Me: Are you sure you don't need your inhaler?
    Him: No, I'm *huuuur* fine.

  • Rhywun||

    Mandating less appealing e-cigarettes means discouraging smokers from making a switch that would dramatically reduce the health risks they face.

    Just tax the everloving shit out of them and watch the government suddenly lose interest in trying to keep as many of them hooked on cigarettes as possible.

  • BYODB||

    The thing is that both adults and teens buy these for the same reason: They are inconspicuous and you can use them in public and no one will realize what you're doing.

    Ultimately, it's the tool that free's smokers from 'no smoking' signs and that can not be allowed by our betters in the political class.

    Why, you might even use one in an airport! The horror!

  • BYODB||


    Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration, responding to anecdotal reports of students who juul during school, announced that it is investigating whether the company is marketing its products to minors.


    So, if kids use a product is must therefore be marketed to kids.


    I'll be sure to let HBO and the entire internet porn industry know of this caveat.


    /sarc


    One of my 37 year old friends uses one of those, and the reason is explicity because 'I can vape at work and no one will notice.' Gee, GO FIGURE FDA! I use a SMOK vaporizer so I gotta go to the bathroom and be sly, but I'm thinking I might just grab one of these instead.

  • Sigivald||

    People wonder why other people want the FDA reined in or disbanded.

    Of course, those same people already seem to think "for the children!" excuses anything ... or at least anything that doesn't gore one of their oxen.

    We're Why We Can't Have Nice Things.

  • Rich||

    The FDA says it is conducting "a large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes"

    Using their armed Office of Criminal Investigations Special Agents, no doubt.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    What if the e-cigarette features that appeal to teenagers also appeal to grownups?

    I think you're assuming something the government doesn't, which is that as grownups, you have a right to reside for yourself.

    But you're not the right kind of grownup - if you were you'd already know that the government is the only grownup capable of making such decisions for us all.

    And in case that doesn't explain it well enough, just remember our government's motto: FYTW

  • jelabarre||

    although a few states and cities, including California and New York City, have enacted that rule. In most places the minimum purchase age is 18.

    So they allow you those three years to get addicted to cigarettes before you are allowed to buy smoking cessation products.

    Is it perhaps that there aren't cigarette taxes collected on vaping products? (I don't know if they are or not, but it could be a factor).

  • Robert||

    What about people who just want to vape who haven't been smokers?

  • IceTrey||

    If 18 is the age to buy cigarettes most places and high school seniors are 18, other than it violates school rules, what exactly is the problem with teens vaping?

  • DenverJ||

    It's kinda like smoking, so by the power of transmutation, it shares the same moral approbation as smoking. Seriously, these people are primitives, believing in totems and magic.

  • DenverJ||

    Please show me where, exactly, the Constitution gives the Federal government the authority to meddle in this marketplace. Ok thanks I'll hold my breath.

  • crookedbill||

    I used to smoke socially - pack a week at most. Met my beautiful wife while smoking (she asked to bum a cigarette off me at a bar ages ago) - so, thanks Philip Morris. She quite a while back and I recently quit for 9 months (was tired of coughing, and didn't like smelling like shit anymore), but I just picked up a Juul for the novelty of it (never heard of 'em before seeing all the "Juul-panic" reports in the news).

    It's actually an incredibly well designed and engineered product - and for that alone I'll support 'em. Small, discrete, odorless, creates less trash, and much less of a health threat than many other widely accepted addictive vices - like a high sugar diet, for example, whose industry obviously and absolutely markets to children (why not? Let 'em).

    Point is, and it goes without saying (especially here), government playing nanny, trying to figure out which "vice" deserves more scrutiny and control is a fool's errand and a slippery slope - plus, there is absolutely nothing inherently harmful about nicotine anymore than caffeine. It's the delivery method that's harmful, and inhaling burnt plant matter/tar is the cancer culprit. Preaching to the choir here, but that point needs to be beat into would-be regulators' heads with the goddamn hammer of Thor.

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