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JUUL: Amazing Marketing. Awful Intentions.

Photo by E-Liquids UK via Unsplash

Last updated on January 16, 2023

For literal centuries, America has struggled to regulate both illicit and pharmaceutical drugs. And yes, our nation has made progress but guess who else has?

Drug companies. 

Over time, drug enterprises have become more crafty; they’ve innovated, marketed, and found loopholes in order to rise to the top while bypassing government restrictions. And if you want an example of this, unfortunately the best one lies within a company called JUUL Labs and how they use e-cigarettes to market nicotine to minors.

In the present day, those between 15-17 years of age are 16 times more likely to use JUUL’s e-cigarette products than those between the ages of 25-34.

JUUL Labs (formerly known as Ploom Inc (2007-2015) and PAX Labs (2015-2017)) was founded in 2007 by Adam Bowen and James Monsees. In 2015, they launched their flagship product: the JUUL, an electronic cigarette that contained nearly three times more nicotine than what is legal in places like the United Kingdom (the United States does not have a federal limit). And since its release, JUUL has dominated the e-cigarette market.

But suddenly this past June, the FDA announced that due to its marketing towards minors, the company would be banned from selling anything until further notice. What’s happening now?

In the past few months, Juul has responded with an appeal to the Federal Court which resulted in a temporary block on the FDA’s ban. On top of that, the FDA put an administrative stay on its own order. Benjamin Gies, a writer for the Lexington Herald Leader, has implied in an Op-Ed that there is most likely some form of bribery or lobbying taking place, stating, “Now is not the time for FDA leaders to succumb to threats from big money corporations”. The positive, though, is that McKinsey and Co. (the marketers behind JUUL) have been blocked from signing new contracts for the time being. 

The central reason why JUUL is being heard out is because of their supposed intent to make it easy for adults to quit smoking. However, the fact that the majority of JUUL’s audience is made up of underage adolescents remains clear, especially given that the FDA has allowed other e-cigarette brands (that don’t market towards teens) such as R.J. Reynolds and Logic to stay on the market.

This raises the question of why JUUL is so much more enticing to younger populations.

The answer lies within the fact that they are marketed specifically towards us. Teenagers don’t just happen to come across these products, and there is a reason why ultimately, the marketing company behind the product has been blocked.

One major way that JUUL does this is through their flavors like “mango nectar” or “alpine berry” because when you package nicotine’s addictive qualities with flavors that make smoking seem as trivial as chewing gum, the product’s impact shouldn’t surprise anyone. Furthermore, most students grow up being warned about smoking from their parents and teachers but JUUL’s are sold in colorful boxes which feature modern packaging and chic designs unlike anything that young populations have been warned of.

So, it may be true that the idea of an e-cigarette can make it easier for smokers to quit by providing a middle ground between sobriety and nicotine addiction. However, by using modern packaging and salivating flavors, JUUL’s products are a double edged sword that also serve as a modern, convenient, and seemingly cool gateway into a nicotine addiction. 

And unfortunately, this double edged sword is much sharper on one side than the other as studies show that those between 15-17 years old are over 16 times more likely to use JUUL products than those between the ages of 25-34. What’s worse is that according to a survey, nearly 42% of youth e-cigarette users vape because they like how it tastes, 15% because it seems cool, and only 6% to break a tobacco addiction. Additionally, congressional investigators have found that JUUL Labs deployed a “sophisticated program” where they paid schools up to $10,000 to let company representatives tell students about JUULing and sometimes even show them how to use the product. There is also evidence that the company has targeted young students through summer camps and extracurricular programs. 

The bottom line is that both in practice and in theory, JUULing is marketed towards young audiences and creates a gateway for adolescents to form addictions. The FDA is a federal institution and has a duty to fulfill when it comes to our nation’s safety. If JUULs are threatening something as important as our health, then bribery should not come into play and it’s imperative that we call upon our legislators to do what is best.

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