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Essay: The Rise of JUUL and the FDA's Crackdown on Youth E-Cigarette Use

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 921 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Electronic cigarettes were first introduced to the market in 2003 and were promoted to aid adults in the process of quitting smoking (Cummings, 2018). Yet, the e-cigarette industry changed dramatically in the year 2016, when JUUL became an independent company. Stemming from San Francisco, Calif. the company quickly gained popularity and as of April 2018 has taken more than half of the e-cigarette market share (JUUL E-cigarettes, 2018). No longer just seen as an aid to quit cigarette use in adults, JUUL has now become prevalent in underage children. Despite campaigns by JUUL and marketing against underage smoking, the Food and Drug Administration has given JUUL 60 days to prove that they can keep their product out of the hands of minors (Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2018). As word of an epidemic spreads, one can infer that the FDA will use the company as a precedent and use the popularity of the product within minors, and the health risks of the product to terminate the production of JUUL.

Last year the FDA launched the Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, in hopes to prevent youth access to e-cigarettes, curb product marketing to minors and educate teens on the dangers of all tobacco products. In the spring of 2018 the FDA turned their focus to JUUL, sending 56 warning letters and 6 civil money penalties to vendors who sold the product to minors. The FDA released an announcement on September 12, 2018 that this ongoing initiative is the largest single enforcement action in its history (FDA, 2018). They believe that the promotion of e-cigarettes in a kid-friendly manor is the reason for the popularity among youth and will result in a generation of nicotine-addicts. “Flavors play an important role in driving youth appeal,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. during the press conference (FDA, 2018). Flavorings such as crème brûlée, mint, and strawberry among others don’t only entice youth, but also allows them to hide the smell of smoke from parents, guardians, teachers, etc. The FDA is now looking at policy change for the immediate removal of flavored products from the market. Along with the smoke-free smell of the vapor, the discreet look of the product (an elongated flash-drive or stick) allows many children to hide the product from authoritative figures. The product can also be wrapped to customize with personalized designs making it even more popular within a younger demographic (Gibson-Young, 2018).

Not only does JUUL seem to be promoting towards the younger generation, but by advertising their product as a “satisfying alternative to cigarettes,” they misconstrue their costumers of the health risks (JUUL E-cigarettes, 2018). Each JUUL pod contains the equivalent to 1 pack of cigarettes, or 200 puffs, and each pack of JUUL pods comes with four (Gibson-Young, 2018). However, although a powerful amount of nicotine is concentrated within the product, sixty-three percent of users are unaware that the products always contains nicotine. Although e-cigarettes contain less harmful chemicals than burned cigarettes, nicotine is an addictive drug and can lead to youth to become nicotine addicts and future smokers. Young adults who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to start smoking tobacco, compared to those who do not smoke e-cigarettes (JUUL E-cigarettes, 2018). According to the FDA’s most recent press conference, the product also has the “possibility of releasing some chemicals at higher levels than conventional cigarettes” (FDA, 2018). These chemicals, combined with nicotine, can harm the adolescent brain, which does not stop developing until the age of 25, leaving a dire impact on the development of underage JUUL users (Smoking & Tobacco, 2018).

CEO of JUUL, Kevin Burns, is adamant that the company does not target children and are driven by the goal of ending the global use of cigarettes. The company has a pop-up screen once people open their website asking to verify that the online user is at least 21 years of age. Throughout the website, it clearly states that the product is for adult smokers looking to make the transition to e-cigarettes. Burns also includes letters from the CEO, many of which are prompted by the debate that their product is targeted to youth. In one of the letters, Burns states that he is not only a JUUL employee, but a father himself who would never want his 18 year-old son or 1 year-old daughter to use the product. Within the same letter, he introduces the JUUL youth prevention plan. He has committed the company to work in partnership with lawmakers and the FDA to contest the use of JUUL by minors. The company is actively supporting state and federal efforts to raise the legal age to 21 or over to buy tobacco products. In addition to the companies supportive backing, JUUL will also make a $30 million investment over the span of the next three years towards independent research, education for both parents and youth, and community engagement. As JUUL addresses the concern of the FDA head on, they may take enough action to meet the standards the FDA has sent with the Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan (Burns, 2018). Yet Dr. Gottlieb might see this as just another account of JUUL “treating these issues as a Public Relations challenges rather than seriously considering their legal obligations” (FDA, 2018).

Due to the rising popularity of JUUL use in minors and the health risks the product has for youth, the FDA will reasonably stop not just the production of flavored e-cigarettes, but possibly the production of JUUL as-a-whole. Although JUUL is acting to prevent the use of their product within children, FDA will use the leading e-cigarette company as a precedent to halt the epidemic that is becoming under age vaping.

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