Attention teenage vapers: there will be no more flavoured e-cigarettes for you. This means no mango, berry, crème, or cucumber pods! To some of us this may seem like a bizarre joke. But to over three million teenagers across the United States, this news equals nothing short of the apocalypse.
Following years of intense public and governmental pressure, Juul Labs, a San Francisco based company which dominates the American e-cig market (raising $751 million in investment and generating $15 billion in revenue since its founding), announced on Tuesday that it will suspend sales of virtually all flavoured pods and shut down its social media promotions targeting young Americans. The announcement by Juul (which was followed by several other e-cigarette companies in the U.S. that vowed to crack down on teenage usage of their products) came as a response to an FDA imposed deadline set for the company to devise a plan in order to eradicate the teenage vaping epidemic raging across the country. Yet, many remain highly sceptical that Juul’s actions will bear a significant impact on a teenage population that grows increasingly dependent on the nicotine pumping device.
E-cigarettes were launched as an alternative to smokers who wished to maintain consumption of nicotine without the tar and carcinogens involved in cigarette smoking. But removing the goopy gunk from the smoking experience spawned a whole new problem: rapidly increasing levels of nicotine addiction among nonsmoking teenagers. Teenage vaping became a serious issue in 2015 when Juul first hit the U.S. market. Unlike the previous, clunky vapes available, Juul’s devices resemble a slick and modern flash drive; the mist it emits is practically odourless, which resolves the problem of bad breath and makes vaping accessible and easy to hide from parents and teachers. The flavours (diverse and on the pseudo-sophisticated side) prove to be a massive hit among youngsters. All of these factors combined have morphed what is now referred to as “Juuling” into a seemingly safe and quasi-hip activity among millions of American teenagers.
The innocuous appearance of Juuling, however, is highly misleading. It has been scientifically proven that teenagers, whose brains aren’t fully developed yet, require less exposure to nicotine in order to become addicted. A study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine confirms that 11 percent of all high school students (roughly 1.7 million) had vaped within the last month. The study further reports that vaping teenagers are at a significantly higher risk of segwaying into cigarette smoking. Concerned parents and teachers across America have endeavoured to quash the vaping inferno, but thus far to no avail. Within a matter of three years, the situation has descended into a big Juuling mess.
The intensifying threats by the FDA and various local authorities have led Juul to announce it will cease distribution of most fruity flavours in retail stores and gas stations. Juul has also declared that it will close its U.S. based Facebook and Instagram accounts (with tens of thousands of followers) on which ads were circulated to target young vapers. The company has further announced that it will from now on employ top notch technology on its website (including a real-time face recognition programme) in order to ensure that no underaged users are able to purchase their products online.
Many, however, worry that Juul is doing ‘too little, too late’ to crack down on teenage vaping. Firstly, the company is only due to halt sales of flavoured pods, which represent just 55 percent of its sales, as its mint, menthol, and tobacco pods will continue to be distributed, (Juul refuses to reveal data concerning how popular these flavours are among the youth). Furthermore, Juul’s suspension of its U.S. based social media accounts is unlikely to stem the online circulation of their ads, seeing as the company’s success on social media has always relied heavily on others’ activity rather than its own. In an interview for WIRED, Vince Willmore, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said, “Even if Juul pulls back, young customers will keep doing the marketing for them through their own posts on Instagram, YouTube, and other social media.”
The FDA took to Twitter shortly after Juul’s announcement, declaring that the company’s voluntary actions cannot come instead of government-imposed regulations. Skeptical of the FDA’s ‘all talk no action’ track record when it comes to standing up to e-cig companies, many private attorneys and cities (including LA, Chicago, and Philadelphia) have launched their own offensives against Juul, filing various types of lawsuits against the company and vowing to quash the public epidemic.
In the meantime, we should educate ourselves about the true nature of vaping and its effect on the youth. Those of us who took up smoking at a relatively young age may be less alarmed by this phenomena, yet we owe it to the next generation to have a chance at a nicotine-free existence.