The developers of the Juul e-cigarette say they created the device to help adult smokers quit. But their product achieved enormous success, becoming the top-selling e-cigarette in the US in two years, in part by attracting a huge following among kids younger than 18, who aren’t legally allowed to purchase such products. Now, the nation’s Food and Drug Administration has banned Juul Labs Inc.’s products from the market, noting their “disproportionate role in the rise in youth vaping.”
It’s a vaping device containing a battery that heats nicotine liquid. The user inhales nicotine, an addictive alkaloid present in tobacco, and exhales aerosol. There’s no burning tobacco and thus no smoke or tar. The Juul has a sleek design. It’s made of brushed aluminum and resembles a USB flash drive. Because it’s small, the underage vaper can palm it, discreetly take a hit when a teacher or parent isn’t looking, and breathe the aerosol into a sleeve or collar. Originally, Juul refills came in tasty flavors such as mango and creme.
2. How common is teen vaping?
More than 13% of middle- and high-school students said they vaped within the previous month, according to a national survey published in October. More than 80% of those students said they used flavored e-cigarettes. Fruit flavors were the most popular, followed by candy ones. In 2020, the FDA essentially barred flavors except tobacco and menthol in e-cigarettes such as the Juul that use a replaceable cartridge (or pod) filled with nicotine liquid. But disposable e-cigarettes and liquids for refillable open-tank systems weren’t covered. (Michael R. Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has funded efforts to ban flavored vaping products.)
3. What are the concerns about vaping?
While some evidence suggests that vaping is a safer choice than lighting up, there isn’t enough long-term data to make a definitive conclusion. In late 2019 and early 2020, there were nearly 3,000 cases of lung injuries resulting in 68 deaths reported in the US that were associated with vaping. Vitamin E acetate, an additive in some vaping products containing THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, is strongly suspected to be the culprit. The effects on humans of nicotine aren’t well-studied, although adolescents appear to be particularly vulnerable to it, with some evidence suggesting it can harm brain development. A report by the US National Academies of Sciences said there was substantial evidence that young vapers are more likely than nonvapers to try regular cigarettes.
4. How are e-cigarettes regulated in the US?
The FDA began regulating e-cigarettes as tobacco products in 2016, requiring companies to submit applications to continue selling existing or new products. One of the biggest challenges for the agency has been keeping the products out of the hands of kids. The FDA has sent thousands of warning letters to retailers who have illegally sold e-cigarettes to minors. It also conducts regular inspections of manufacturing facilities. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, has said that the burden is on companies applying for authorization to sell vaping products “to demonstrate that the benefit to adults is going to outweigh the harm to kids.” According to the FDA, Juul’s application lacked sufficient evidence to show that allowing its products to be sold in the US would be appropriate for the protection of public health. It said some of the company’s study findings “raised concerns due to insufficient and conflicting data.”
5. What’s the future for Juul Labs?
Joe Murillo, chief regulatory officer for Juul Labs, said the company disagreed with the FDA’s decision and would seek a stay as it considers what to do next, including an appeal. Meanwhile, the company is facing a plethora of lawsuits. In April it reached a $22.5 million settlement with Washington state over claims it unlawfully targeted underage consumers with deceptive advertisements. Last year, the company struck a $40 million settlement with North Carolina over a suit claiming it aimed its products at the young. The company agreed to stop all marketing directed at young people as part of that deal. There are also more than 2,500 personal injury cases in which Juul Labs is accused of deliberately targeting minors in marketing its products.
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