The head of a top anti-tobacco group says an e-cig that's gone viral among teens is ‘the genie you can’t put back in the bottle’
- An e-cigarette called the Juul is surging in popularity among adults and teens.
- The president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids told Business Insider that the device’s viral following among youth is a phenomenon that can’t be undone.
- Juul Labs, the startup that makes the devices, is valued at $15 billion and is growing fast .
Bad habits are tough to break.
The Juul, an e-cigarette that delivers a nicotine hit equal to the amount in two packs of cigarettes, may be one of the toughest.
Adult customers say they find the high nicotine content as satisfying as conventional cigarettes, but the Juul also has a growing number of teen fans, whose developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to addiction. Those teens could become a new generation of smokers, researchers warn.
“This is really the genie you can’t put back in the bottle,” Matthew Myers , the president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told Business Insider.
In recent months — as a backlash against Juul has grown — the company has been emphatic that its products are not intended for teens, and Juul has taken measures to counter that reputation. But researchers and advocates say that teens who’ve been attracted to the devices’ sleek design and sweet flavors may now be addicted to nicotine. Young people who vape may be up to seven times more likely to smoke regular cigarettes than teens who never try an e-cig, according to several peer-reviewed studies.
Since April, consumers have filed at least three lawsuits against Juul for what they allege are deceptive marketing practices that didn’t clearly outline how addictive nicotine is, Wired recently reported . On Tuesday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey launched an investigation into the company to determine if Juul violated state consumer-protection laws by failing to keep minors from buying their products. Those challenges come on the heels of several other legal hurdles for the company, including a San Francisco ban on flavored tobacco and a Food and Drug Administration crackdown .
‘I’ve never seen a phenomenon like this before’
There’s no question about the Juul’s popularity.
Juul now represents 70.5% of the e-cig market, and dollar sales climbed 738% in the four-week period that ended on July 14, according to Nielsen data.
Teens seem to love it. Instagram and YouTube are full of videos of teens vaping, or “Juuling,” in class and even on the sly in front of teachers .
Those photos and videos can double as unintentional advertisements for the product.
“Once something is the rage like this, the kids are doing it for you,” Myers said of Juul’s growing teen following.
A Juul Labs spokesperson told Business Insider that the company has been working with Instagram and Facebook in recent months to remove any content showing minors using the Juul, and has successfully taken down more than 4,000 posts from the platforms. In June, the company announced that it would no longer feature models on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, and would instead exclusively show former smokers who switched from combustible cigarettes to the Juul.
But Myers said those efforts have come too late.
A string of high schools along the East Coast has already cited “Juuling” in bathroom stalls as a widespread problem, and dozens of teachers have reported confiscating Juul devices disguised as Sharpies and other classroom items.
“I don’t go anywhere where there isn’t a parent in the audience who isn’t concerned about the Juul,” Myers said. “I’ve never seen a phenomenon like this before.”
Ana Rule , a professor at Johns Hopkins University and an author of a recent study on e-cigs and teens, agrees that young people’s use of e-cigs — no matter the brand — is a huge concern.
“Vaping among teens is my and most public health professionals’ biggest worry,” Rule told Business Insider in March .
E-cig manufacturers including Juul Labs say their devices are designed for adult smokers who are looking to switch from cigarettes to less harmful products. But it’s not clear that using vape pens helps people give up cigarettes. In fact, the bulk of research suggests that people who take up vaping continue to smoke regular cigarettes and may be less successful at quitting than those who don’t use e-cigs . Nicotine is a highly addictive substance — one analysis ranked it above alcohol and barbiturates (anti-anxiety drugs). Some 85% of people who try to quit smoking on their own relapse.
Ironically, young people who vape have a higher likelihood of smoking conventional cigarettes than those who don’t. That’s why so many public health researchers are worried about the Juul.
In the recent lawsuits, most of which were filed on behalf of teens, the defendants allege that the devices are so high in nicotine that they could not stop using them and quickly began showing symptoms of addiction. One complaint alleged that a 15-year-old defendant became “anxious, highly irritable, and prone to angry outbursts” after using the Juul.
“He is unable to avoid Juuling even though it subjects him to disciplinary measures at home and at school,” the claim says.
If you’re a Juul or Pax employee with a story to share, email this reporter at [email protected]
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