JUUL Proposes a Solution for Underage Vaping
Vaping has been the subject of many studies and surveys over the years, and one thing vapers have invariably reported in surveys is that the switch to vaping has improved their lives. You most likely feel the same about your decision to vape. We also bet, though, that you would prefer to have never started using nicotine in the first place. Nicotine addiction changes your life, drains your money and is incredibly difficult to break.
The vaping industry began with a noble mission: to give the committed smokers of the world a better alternative and help them transition to that alternative. There’s just one problem: People who should not be buying e-cigarettes have begun vaping. Those people are children, and there are millions of them. Underage vaping has become such a problem that the FDA has threatened to step in and force the vaping industry’s hand if the industry can’t find a way to fix the problem itself.
On November 13, 2018, JUUL Labs proposed its solution for underage vaping. Before we discuss that, though, let’s learn a bit more about how we got to where we are today.
The Explosion of Underage Vaping
2011-2017: Vaping Begins to Replace Tobacco
The above graph shows the yearly results of the National Youth Tobacco Survey from 2011-2017. For the purpose of this survey, vaping is considered tobacco use. As you’ll see from the graph, overall tobacco use among high schoolers was on the decline and was under 20 percent as of 2017. As you’ll also see, though, e-cigarettes have become the most popular tobacco product among high schoolers by a fairly wide margin.
This infographic further describes the results of the survey. Since 2011, there has been a marked decrease in underage tobacco use – from about 4.56 million in 2011 to 3.62 million in 2017. That’s a pretty big win for public health – until you get to the part about 2.1 million students using e-cigarettes. Clearly, tobacco cigarettes are no longer as attractive to kids as they once were. The problem is that e-cigarettes are attractive to kids.
Why do students find e-cigarettes attractive? The information on the FDA Youth Tobacco Use page is very telling; 31 percent of survey respondents said that they vaped because they liked the availability of flavors such as mint, candy, fruit and chocolate – and if you think that’s bad, take a look at where we are today.
2018: Youth Nicotine Use Increases for the First Time in Two Decades
The FDA released the results of the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey just a few days ago, and the results are not good. Use of any tobacco product among high school students has skyrocketed from under 20 percent to 27.1 percent – and the increase comes virtually entirely from e-cigarette use. Among all students, the number of e-cigarette users has increased from 2.1 million to 3.6 million.
If you spend any time reading vaping industry news, you know that Big Tobacco and Big Pharma have a vested interest in seeing vaping go away. E-cigarettes, after all, cut into their profits. It’s easy to look at negative reports about vaping and dismiss them as scaremongering or trying to make the vaping industry look bad. You might have thought the same when reading the many news reports about underage vaping that have appeared over the past year or two. “Underage tobacco use has always existed, but at least it’s improving,” you might have thought. “The FDA just needs a way to justify the draconian regulations that might one day put a stop to almost all vaping in the United States.” The numbers, however, say otherwise.
Underage vaping is a serious problem, and it’s getting worse. We’re seeing statistics on student tobacco use that we haven’t seen since the ‘70s. We can now say with confidence that, if e-cigarettes didn’t exist, millions of students who now use nicotine would have never started and potentially gotten themselves addicted for life – and what happens next year and the year after that? Will the number increase even further? E-cigarettes were never supposed to be the gateway drug for the next generation of nicotine addicts. If something doesn’t change now, though, that’s exactly what they’ll become – and that’s why the FDA has put its foot down.
Why Is JUUL Getting So Much Attention?
JUUL’s Unprecedented Vaping Industry Dominance
As long as the vaping industry has existed, some products have been more popular than others. The amount of competition, though, has always prevented any one brand from achieving a position of clear dominance. When it first appeared on the market in 2015, JUUL simply looked like yet another of those products. Sure, it sported a number of important innovations, but innovative new vaping products appear all the time. It would only be a matter of time before the other manufacturers cloned JUUL’s technology and released a flood of imitators. Some of those imitators would become popular, and the vaping industry would retain its state of equilibrium – only that didn’t happen. The clones certainly came, but none of them achieved significant popularity.
What JUUL has done has no precedent in the history of the vaping industry. At some point, the brand reached a critical mass. Suddenly, the fact that other e-cigarette brands exist became irrelevant to most e-cigarette buyers – and at that point, JUUL’s sales seemingly multiplied every quarter. Today, JUUL claims 75 percent of all e-cigarette sales that Nielsen can track.
JUUL Is a Hit With Underage Vapers
So, let’s do the math. JUUL claims 75 percent of all trackable e-cigarette sales, and 1.5 million kids started vaping over the past year. It stands to reason, then, that at least 1.15 million of those kids are using JUUL e-cigarettes – and anecdotal reports suggest the actual number may be far higher than that. In Tennessee, one student says that “almost everyone” in his school has a JUUL. Firsthand reports from students suggest that the actual number of underage JUUL users could be even higher than the Youth Tobacco Survey suggests.
How popular is JUUL among kids compared to other e-cigarettes? For starters, “vaping” isn’t even a thing among students. They’re not vaping – they’re JUULing.
The FDA Demands Answers About Underage Vaping
In 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb became increasingly vocal about the teenage vaping epidemic – and in particular, about the role that JUUL has played in the proliferation of underage vaping. The FDA has had the preliminary data from the 2018 Youth Tobacco Survey for a while, and they’ve also gathered their own information through independent surveys and undercover investigations of stores selling tobacco products. In April 2018, those investigations resulted in 40 citations for retailers illegally selling JUUL products to minors. The FDA went on to ask JUUL and a few other e-cigarette makers to outline their game plans for curbing underage use. In October, the FDA raided the JUUL Labs headquarters and seized more than 1,000 documents relating to the company’s marketing practices.
On November 15, Commissioner Gottlieb released a statement outlining his proposed new steps for reducing youth access to vaping products and making those products less appealing to children. It’s worth reading the statement in its entirety because it outlines the FDA’s current thinking on vaping products and outlines the powers that the FDA intends to invoke if manufacturers and retailers can’t manage to show an immediate reduction in the proliferation of youth vaping.
To summarize Commissioner Gottlieb’s statement:
- The FDA recognizes that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes and wants vaping products to be available to adult smokers.
- Despite the potential public health benefits of e-cigarettes, the agency considers any youth initiation of nicotine unacceptable and will use all power at its disposal – including wiping out the vaping industry – to curb youth vaping.
- Among underage e-cigarette users, more than two thirds use e-cigarettes with characteristic flavors other than tobacco, menthol or mint.
- The FDA hasn’t ruled out banning the sale of flavored vaping products altogether. In the meantime, though, the agency is recommending that such products only be sold in age-restricted locations such as vape shops and on websites with strong age verification tools.
- Commissioner Gottlieb would also like to see mint and menthol e-liquids go away but recognizes the impracticality of that as long as menthol cigarettes exist. The FDA strongly favors banning menthol cigarettes as well as flavored cigars.
- The FDA intends to remove any e-liquid from the market with characteristics likely to appeal to children. Such characteristics might include cartoon mascots or resemblance to the packaging of products like soda and candy.
JUUL’s Solution for Underage Vaping
You now have a thorough understanding of why we are where we are today. For the first time since the beginning of the vaping industry, we’ve had a year in which youth nicotine use has increased. It hasn’t increased by a small amount; it’s increased by an amount that sets us back decades. In addition, the vaping industry has a clear leader for the first time. The FDA expects JUUL Labs to step up and be a leader by outlining the direction that the rest of the industry will have to follow. Two days ahead of Commissioner Gottlieb’s statement, JUUL did exactly that by announcing the voluntary steps they’re taking to curb underage nicotine use.
To summarize JUUL’s announcement:
- JUUL is immediately halting the distribution of flavored pods including Cucumber, Mango, Crème and Fruit to the 90,000 brick-and-mortar stores that sell JUUL products. Tobacco, mint and menthol flavors will remain available in stores. Flavored pods will be available only through the JUUL website.
- JUUL will strengthen its website’s age verification system to prevent underage sales. The website will use public records to confirm buyers’ ages. When the system is unable to verify a buyer’s age, the buyer will need to provide a photo of his or her ID.
- JUUL will add two-factor authentication to its website before the end of the year. New customers will be required to submit photos showing that they are the people depicted in their ID photographs.
- JUUL will sell products only to customers aged 21 and older.
- JUUL will limit order quantities to deter customers from operating as unauthorized resellers.
- JUUL will visit up to 2,000 stores per month to confirm that JUUL retailers are refusing underage sales. JUUL will impose penalties on stores selling to minors, potentially including complete removal from the JUUL retail sale program.
- JUUL is monitoring online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon and will pursue the removal of any listings offering JUUL products.
- JUUL has shut down its own social media accounts and is monitoring all popular social media services for user content that depicts underage JUUL use.
Eventually, JUUL intends to reintroduce its flavored pods to retail stores that can legally sell flavored e-liquid. Given the FDA’s intention to remove flavored vaping products from stores with no entry restrictions – such as gas stations – it seems likely that specialty vape shops will be the only brick-and-mortar stores that offer flavored JUUL pods. Before they can do that, though, they’ll need to implement point-of-sale systems that automatically restrict the sale of flavored JUUL pods to customers aged 21 and over. Brick-and-mortar stores will also need to limit order quantities to deter resale.
What Do JUUL’s Changes Mean for You?
Like all responsible companies in the vaping industry, we Mystical Vapes are committed to providing our adult customers with the products that they need to support their tobacco-free lifestyles. We are exploring all available options for ensuring your continued access to the products that make vaping satisfying and enjoyable for you. At the same time, we hope you’ll agree that these inconveniences are a small price to pay if the end result is that we put a halt to the potential creation of a new generation of nicotine addicts.