Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation to determine whether the popular vaporizer/e-cigarette company Juul intentionally marketed its devices to young people. As part of that inquiry, the FDA ordered Juul to produce the company’s research and marketing documents, including information on focus groups and toxicology reports. The attorney general of Massachusetts is also conducting an investigation of the company to review Juul’s efforts to audit its own website and other online retailers that sell its products to determine how effective they are at preventing minors from accessing Juul devices.
A day after receiving the FDA’s request for documents, Juul announced it would spend $30 million to combat underage vaping. Juul deleted months’ worth of social media posts, including various images of young people using the devices. It changed its website, removing pictures of fruit and creating a more serious appearance. The website now includes a video of adults vaping with a reminder across the top of the page inviting visitors to “learn about our youth prevention efforts.” The company also recently removed its focus on flavors, and toned down the names of flavors to lessen their appeal to teenagers (such as “crème” instead of “crème brûlèe” and “cucumber” instead of “cool cucumber”). Since its inception in 2015, Juul has changed its marketing campaign from using models who were at least 21 years old to (in 2017) models over the age of 35, and in 2018 to using only “real people” who switched from cigarettes to Juul.
On September 12, 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced the use of electronic cigarettes among teenagers has “reached nothing short of an epidemic proportion of growth.” [See the FDA Announcement HERE] The same day, the FDA issued 12 warning letters to companies that continue to “misleadingly” label or advertise e-liquids “resembling kid-friendly foods like juice boxes, candy and cookies.” The FDA is considering an outright ban on flavored e-cigarettes from Juul Labs and other companies, giving the five top-selling brands 60 days to provide plans for how they will mitigate sales to minors. Juul represents approximately 72% of the US market for e-cigarettes. Dr. Gottlieb said the FDA had also sent more than 1,100 warning letters to stores for the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to minors. According to Dr. Gottlieb, “Everything is on the table. This includes the resources of our civil and criminal enforcement tools.”
Use of Juuls and similar discreet vaporizers continues to trend among the young. A study released in December 2017 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that nearly 1 in 3 high school seniors reported using some kind of vaping device in the past year. The FDA estimated more than 2 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2017.
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and harmful to brain development. The long-term health effects of vaping may not be known for years. As a new school year begins, districts are encouraged to take active preventive measures. School staff must be vigilant in monitoring these small devices, which are easily concealed and resemble a USB flash drive. Anti-smoking and tobacco policies should prohibit the possession and use of vaping devices along with traditional tobacco products.