What started as a way for adults to find an alternative to smoking cigarettes has become quite the party trick for middle school, high school and college students alike.
The Juul, an e-cigarette with a sleek and compact design, has become a staple in millennial society. This popular fad, however, has had its downfalls, from carcinogenic rumors to the most current update in its sales and marketing platform.
Juul Labs announced on Tuesday that it would suspend sales of most of its flavored e-cigarette pods in retail stores and would discontinue its social media promotions, according to The New York Times.
This update comes as a new wave of Juul controversy crests: Juul Labs is facing mounting pressure from the Food and Drug Administration to decrease the number of underage users of the nicotine-packed product.
The FDA announced today a ban on some flavors of e-cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations and stricter requirements for age verification of online sales of e-cigarettes, according to The New York Times. These measures could make it more difficult for young people, including University of Richmond students, to purchase certain Juul products.
Junior Luke Garrison, a Juul user, pointed out a way around the issue.
“I think that’s definitely going to discourage a lot of the underage use, which in a way is good,” Garrison said. “It’s definitely filling out what the FDA wanted and it looks like a smart move on Juul’s part to get them out of hot water. But they do still sell the fruity-flavored pods on their online shop.”
Although Juul announced it would improve its online age-verification system to ensure buyers were 21 or older, Garrison said he was doubtful that the system would be effective.
“Some kids will find a way,” Garrison said. “They could get someone they know who’s 21 to sign for them if they’re not of age.”
This continued easy access is concerning to students such as senior Izzy Rusher, who interns for Kinin, a company that sells wellness pods and portable personal diffusers.
“Juul was intended to be an alternative for cigarettes, yet it opened up a whole new market for kids that were never even considering smoking cigarettes in the first place,” Rusher said. “Some kids might quit just because they might not have access to it. But, at the same time, I still think people will always find a way to buy them or just switch to the flavors that they are selling.”
Rusher also emphasized the “cool” factor that draws young people to Juul use. More kids Juul now than they ever did with cigarettes because it’s “cool to Juul,” Rusher said.
This cool factor is what made it all but irresistible to teenagers, according to the New York Times, and the name itself sounded like a mash-up of “jewel” and “cool.”
This irresistibility for the younger population encouraged shares on social media -- another part of Juul’s platform that will be suffering because of the business updates.
“Juul’s social media marketing fueled its popularity with kids,” Caroline Renzulli, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said, according to The New York Times. “Now that it has captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its young customers are doing it for them.”
Some students said they thought this social media targeting was intentional by Juul, but others saw it as a result of business growth and popularity. Senior Kubi Jacisin, a former Juuler, said he thought Juul had catered to kids.
"And they did a good job of it," Jacisin said. "It’s super easy and discrete. You can essentially rip it anywhere.
“Everyone’s been talking about the Juul. It’s a huge thing. Tons of people use it. I can totally understand high schoolers getting drawn in to all of that, just wanting to be cool the same way people are cool when they smoke cigs.”
Rusher agreed that it seemed as if Juul had been marketing to a younger crowd, but said it may not have been intentional.
“It’s made to seem like a cool, millennial, hip thing,” Rusher said. “So maybe they didn’t intend for it to go as viral as it did with the college crowd, but I think big companies who share a large part of the platform of social media, that’s the majority of what the younger age crowd is looking at.”
Garrison said he didn’t necessarily think Juul was disappointed by the underage user base growth.
“They definitely weren’t mad at it,” Garrison said. “I would be pretty skeptical to think that they were out to get teenagers addicted to their product.”
Rusher said the growth of Juul use may not stop until people had further scientific evidence against Juul usage. The one issue is that there are kids who will not stop Juuling until they see factual evidence, such as case studies, Rusher said.
“It hasn’t been going on for a long enough period of time for anybody to see negative or harmful side effects,” Rusher said. “I mean, they know what nicotine does and that it’s addictive, but there hasn’t been anything that’s come out medically speaking about the use of these. Out of sight, out of mind.”
In February, The Collegian reported on the debates over carcinogenic factors in e-cigarettes such as Juuls.
Although a study that exposed laboratory mice to electronic cigarette vapor for 12 weeks concluded that e-cigarettes can cause damage, Alexander Miller, a surgical oncologist, said it was probably too early to tell for sure, The Collegian reported.
“Cigarettes don’t give you lung cancer in a year," Miller said, according to The Collegian. “That would be very odd unless there’s something else. It’s possible it may release a higher concentration of something, or there some mechanism that causes more damage and lung cancer, but not in a year."
But Miller noted that the findings in the original study warrant concern about cigarette and e-cigarette use, according to The Collegian.
Despite the swirling medical concerns, both student Juul users and those who are against Juul use agree that the changes in Juul marketing could have an effect on sales.
“They’re doing it because they’re getting pressure from the FDA, but I feel like they’re cutting out a big client base if they’re going to stop selling flavored pods,” Jacisin said. “That’s definitely what all these kids in high school are going for.”
Jacisin said he thought Juul was going to lose a lot of profit.
“They’re, like, shooting themselves in the foot essentially,” Jacisin said. “But they’re doing it for a good reason.”
Making sales online only would be moronic for business, Garrison said. Garrison also expressed that it would be hard for him personally to purchase pods online because he did not meet the age requirement.
“I think that there’s already a ton of underage kids who Juul who are probably likely addicted by now, so I think by taking these fruit flavors off the market, the kids might just suck it up and start vaping tobacco or menthol,” Garrison said. “The thing is, it’ll be harder to get the fruit flavors because you have to actually be 21 in order to order them online and sign for the package, so that will be difficult.”
With these changes coming to Juul’s marketing, UR students may need to adjust their Juul purchasing habits.
“I would recommend users to start stockpiling fruity flavors ASAP,” Garrison said.
Contact managing editor Sydney Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org.