To curb what it is calling an “epidemic” of teenage e-cigarette use, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has given Juul Labs 60 days from Sept. 12 to prove the company can keep its product out of the reach of minors.
Four other companies were included in the government action against makers and sellers of e-cigarettes. The companies, Vuse, MarkTen, blu e-cigs and Logic, along with Juul, will need to prove they have taken considerable action against the underage sale of their products.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that the initiative has three aims.
“First, preventing youth access to tobacco products. Second, curbing the marketing of tobacco products aimed at youth. And finally, educating teens about the dangers of using any tobacco products,” Gottlieb said.
Marketed as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, Juuls are sold in gas stations, head shops, liquor stores and through online retailers.
“I started using a Juul in March and I used it to quit smoking. I smoked a pack a day since I was 15 years old before then,” said Liam Cunningham, a 21-year-old business major.
Even though the rise in vaping’s popularity had a lot to do with its marketing as a healthier alternative to smoking, many people pick up vaping before they’ve ever touched a cigarette.
“The first time I ever vaped was right after eighth grade. I think somebody just had one and I was like whatever, I wasn’t pressured or anything,” said Alex Young, a 19-year-old musical instrument digital interface applications student. “Freshman or sophomore year of high school I think I started smoking cigarettes.”
Young doesn’t smoke anymore, but doesn’t use high nicotine vapes like a Juul for fear of not being able to wean off. Juul claims to have the same amount of nicotine as a packet of cigarettes in a single “pod” which sell in packs of four for $22.
Gottlieb stressed in his statement that nicotine isn’t a benign substance.
“This is especially true when it comes to children, and the effects that nicotine has on a developing brain,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb’s statement also said the FDA will be issuing warning signs at over 1,100 retailers, outlining the fines that range from $279 to $1,182 for the underage sale of e-cigarettes.
“When I was younger I used to just get people to buy it for me, you know?” Young said. “These companies need to be held responsible to an extent, but they need to start regulating the stores that sell them more.”
Young is still under the legal age to smoke in California, which changed from 18 to 21 in June 2016.
One of the FDA’s main concerns with the current use of vaping among minors are the various flavors the nicotine products come in. The various pods Juul sells have flavors such as mint and mango, which the FDA claims to be attractive to younger people.
Combined with the sleek and minimalistic design of the device, it begins to become clearer what drove the company to a valuation of $15 billion since its inception in 2015.
“You can argue about the flavors and whatnot, but it’s not like Joe Camel, there’s no cartoon character advertising it,” Cunningham said. “Plus, their flavors really aren’t that interesting. It’s not like when you walk into a vape shop and they have like, strawberry bubblegum and stuff.”
Gottlieb said the FDA would be looking closely to see if Juul and other e-cigarette companies allowed bulk purchases of products through their own website
“If Juuls get taken off the market I’ll probably try another type of vape. I’ve seen a few around that are similar and they’re a little cheaper,” Cunningham said. “Juuls are way overpriced. It’s ridiculous.”