Press "Enter" to skip to content

JUUL: Amazing Marketing. Awful Intentions.

Photo by E-Liquids UK via Unsplash

Last updated on March 14, 2023

A high school freshman walks into a bathroom during lunch and notices that the smoke detectors’ array of red and green wires had been hastily dismantled. A thin, wispy smoke envelops their eyes and forces them to procure tears. The air is saturated with the nauseating smell of “Tropical Mango Blast”; its odor will stick to the walls until the custodians come to clean it. 

This was my first encounter with e-cigarette products, casually referred to as “vapes”. However, after spending more time in high school I’ve uncovered that I am not alone in this experience; this is something that a staggering amount of students have encountered. I’ve also realized that this was not an isolated experience. Alternatively, it was a part of a concerning trend. The entity pulling the strings as an underlying factor? It’s none other than a company called JUUL Labs.

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. From the perspective of someone within this demographic, there are clear reasons why this is so and its imperative to discuss them.

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. We 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 “Sour Apple” or “Alpine Berry” because when you package nicotine’s addictive qualities with flavors that make ingesting tobacco 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 products are sold in colorful boxes which feature modern packaging and chic designs unlike anything that their targets 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 underage populations are far more likely to use JUUL’s products. What’s worse is that according to a survey, nearly 42% of youth e-cigarette users vape because they like how it tastes and 15% because it seems cool. 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 pitch JUUL to underage students and sometimes even show them how to use the product. The bottom line is that both in practice and in theory, JUUL markets towards young audiences and enables them to form addictions. 

But the situation that JUUL Labs is in with the FDA at the moment proves that we- the victims- are on our own. In the last year alone, the tobacco industry invested over $29 million in lobbying alone; the FDA and our legislators have failed us in their duty to resolutely keep us safe in this regard. As a result, the most realistic way for us to survive this evolution within the drug industry is to be educated: to know that big companies like JUUL are specifically looking to target us and that there is more manipulation within the tobacco industry than what we’ve been warned of. But above all else, we have to be firm in our stance that getting a cheap dopamine hit is not worth the risk of injecting toxins into ourselves.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: