E-cigarettes, also known as vapes, have become increasingly popular with teens, and in early September, the FDA announced that vaping among teenagers has reached “an epidemic proportion”. Dr. Gottlieb, the commissioner of the FDA has said that at least two million middle and high schoolers were regular users of e-cigarettes last year. This newfound popularity has gotten vape companies into legal trouble with the FDA and private citizens alike. The most prominent e-cigarette company Juul Labs now owns over 70% of the e-cigarette market and is valued at around $16 billion. This year alone, Juul has grown 7-fold since, and as a result is the main target of the FDA’s scrutiny.
In April of this year, the FDA announced it was investigating Juul’s marketing tactics to determine whether or not the company is deliberately targeting youth. In response Juul has submitted thousands of pages of records, but they have not been made public by Juul or the FDA, but this was only the beginning of their legal troubles. More recently, the FDA has given 4 vape brands, Juul, RJR Vapor Co.’s, Imperial Brands, and Logic, 60 days to prove they can keep their devices away from minors. To kickstart the regulation, the FDA sent warning letters to over 1,100 retailers of e-cigarettes, and issued fines from $279 to $11,182 for selling to minors. The FDA also warned vape companies that if they continue to allow bulk sales through their websites they may face serious criminal and civil charges. The fear is that, by allowing customers to buy in bulk, they are making it extremely easy for people who are of age to sell e-cigarettes and e-juice to minors.
Since April, at least 3 lawsuits have been filed against Juul and multiple Attorney Generals including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey have announced investigations into Juul labs. In one case, Carl Cooper said in San Francisco Superior Court that he purchased a Juul in hopes of quitting smoking, but only became more addicted. Cooper, who the suit states, began smoking at age 15, alleged that before starting to Juul he was someone who tended only to smoke on the weekends. After purchasing the Juul however, Cooper became a habitual daily user who would become agitated and moody without nicotine. Other lawsuits have similar claims and asking “How much nicotine is the Juul actually delivering into the bloodstream of an average person?”. “If it’s far more than a cigarette, we believe that’s information that ought to have been disclosed but was not.” Juul pods do contain 5% nicotine which is about a pack of cigarettes per pod. Though this is much higher than the 1.7% legal limit in Britain, this is one of only five pieces of information written on the packaging of Juul pods. Juul pod packages say the flavor, nicotine content, number of pods and two messages. The first reads “WARNING! This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.” and the second reads “the alternative for adult smokers.”
Juul denies that its products are marketed to kids and they are committed to working with the FDA and state governments to keep their products out of the hands of teens. In April, before the FDA’s ultimatum, Juul announced a $30 million campaign to combat underage use of e-cigarettes. Spokesman Matt David said “we too, are committed to preventing underage use of JUUL. We utilize stringent online tools to block attempts by those under the age of 21 from purchasing our products, including unique ID match and age verification technology.”
The latest news in vaping is that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is expected to sign a bill that would raise the legal age for buying cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21 statewide. This bill also seeks to ban e-cigarette use in places where cigarette use is already banned.
The consumer should keep their eye out for news as this year will most likely be the year that determines the future of e-cigarettes in the U.S.
By Henry Dupont