The Juul Epidemic, and Why I’m Writing About it.
The phrase “Juul Epidemic” might sound harsh, as you probably know the Juul as a portable alternative to traditional tobacco products that is easy to use. As we mentioned in a previous article about the attack on vape flavors, Juul is now 35% owned by Altria (Marlboro), and is advocating for the smoking age to be raised to 21 in addition to flavors being removed from vaping entirely. Not only is Juul on the opposite side of the fence from the standard open system (refillable tanks, refillable pods) market, they are the largest group getting vaping into the hands of minors. Panic regarding minors vaping was relatively non-existent before Juul became a full-blown phenomenon. Now vaping is a top priority on the radar of the FDA, state government, and federal government.
Juul epidemic? What if Juul is the only thing that I feel keeps me from smoking?
If switching from traditional tobacco products to using a Juul worked for you, I’m extremely glad something enabled you to switch. The purpose of this article is not to judge those who use Juul products. We here at Steamist previously sold hundreds of Juuls to customers who were happy with the product. We had amazing success with it.
The purpose of this article is to inform the vaping community that may still be using a Juul of how the company pushes to over-regulate vaping, as well as options similar to the Juul with the same nicotine sensation. Juul’s beginnings help to drive the success of the vaping industry. Recent events show how Juul’s actions hurt an industry many are passionate about.
You sold hundreds of Juuls, and now you’re saying they’re an epidemic?
Absolutely. During the period of time where we at Steamist sold large volumes of Juuls and supported them whole-heartedly, things were very different.
When Juul originally appeared, they were a subsidiary of PAX Labs with no connection to Altria. For those who do not know, PAX Labs is a company which manufactures premium herbal vaporizer devices. While we here at Steamist never carried products directly related to the use of herbs, we did some research and recognized the premium quality of devices this company manufactured. This interested us in their new closed pod system made for vaping salt nicotine e-liquid.
In the coming months, we saw a huge rise of customers walking through the door asking about Juul. We recommended the product often. A large majority of customers we helped with obtaining Juuls were very satisfied with them. There was little to no news in the media about Juuling in school or the “teen vaping epidemic,” at least not nearly to the degree that we are now all familiar with.
Little Did we Know, the Excitement Would Come to an End.
After much success for the shop as well as customers switching, the news of Juul devices and pods being sold in gas stations below MSRP reached us. Our customers found these products for less than the cost vape shops paid to get them directly from Juul. Vape shop owners and employees became increasingly confused. When we approached our JUUL Representative about this, he told us that they did not offer discounts to large chain gas stations and everyone paid the same price for Juul products. According to them, a premium product required a premium price no matter the volume you order.
As it turns our Juul lied to get their products into the hands of as many customers as possible. They cut deals with large chains such as 7-11 and Quick Trip. Large companies obtained large discounts not offered to vape shops or smaller retailers. The big kicker, customers under the age of 18 frequent large chain convenience where studies have shown, they do not get IDed.
As the use of Juul product climbed, we started to notice more customers coming into our store requesting Juul products. These customers became substantially younger. We began turning away a large number of customer due to them not being able to present an ID when asked for one. We also became aware of cars that seemed to be full of underage teenagers pulling up. Only one person in the car would come through the doors. These customers often wanted to buy a large volume of Juul products. We informed them that we needed to see the IDs of others in the vehicle. They responded with “hold on” before walking outside, getting into the car, and driving off. Such incidents increased simultaneously with news articles about teens vaping Juul in school.
It is safe to say at this point, that if you know someone under the age of 21 who vapes, they vape a Juul. It’s a trend, a subject of countless memes, a modern pop culture phenomenon.
Shortly following all of this, Juul began meeting with Scott Gottlieb, commissioner at the time of the FDA, and volunteered to remove all of their flavors from shelves of stores. They also provide a lot of “advice” that would damage the rest of the vaping industry. Juul also began issuing warning letters to many vape shops claiming that the shops had sold to underage customers. The vast majority of these vape shops, however, had either never sold Juul, didn’t sell Juul at the time of the supposed incident, or had no record of selling any Juul product on the day of the supposed incident. When contacted by many of these shops regarding the impossible nature of this occurring, Juul simply apologized, saying an error occurred.
A Little Information on the Texas Tobacco 21 Bill
Recently, the Texas Senate had a bill present that would raise the age of smoking or vaping to 21.
Spoiler alert: It passed.
The second hearing in the Senate saw several amendments to the bill added. Some of these amendments included a flagrant rejection of the bill, the most noticeable being a senator asking it be amended from 21 years of age to “of voting age,” which being 18, would make the bill essentially do nothing. The dismissal of said amendments did not surprise anyone, but two amendments presented passed with no disapproval.
- That city government could not change this age. If the number was going to be 21, it would stay 21. A city could not move the age up to 24, or down to 18.
- That the sale of any nicotine-containing e-liquid would only be allowed in age-restricted locations much like hard liquor.
This second amendment eventually created conflict, though no one made a peep about it when presented. Not only would this keep ALL vaping in vape shops where you have to be of age to enter and keep it out of convenient stores, but this would also effectively put Juul out of business in Texas by doing the same to them. This amendment would have made the bill the single most powerful act against underage vaping of all time.
The vast majority of underage vaping is with Juuls, and as shown by the FDA’s 27,500 undercover checks during sting operations which resulted in over 1300 warning letters, convenient stores and gas stations were the main offenders in not IDing underage customers making purchases of vaping and tobacco products. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the FDA at the time said himself that vape stores were typically far better about IDing customers. He also says closed systems (Like Juul) are sold by gas stations to teens.
How TX 21 Passed
However, later the same day that the amendment was added and the bill was passed. Representative Dutton who presented the amendment, and representative Zerwas, who wrote the bill, went under questioning regarding the amendment. The general response from both of them was one of uncertainty, saying that they would consider possibly revising the amendment.
The next day, the bill became presented for a third hearing. The amendment became withdrawn, and the bill then passed. This turned the tobacco 21 bill into one that would have no impact on underage vaping. After all, whether 18 or 21, if you don’t get IDed, you don’t get IDed.
Given the parties affected by this (Altria, who spends massive amounts of money on lobbyists, and Juul, with the potential to lose an entire large high population state’s market), you can assume Dutton and Zerwas received a lot of pressure over the bill.
Since this, Senator Greg Abbott has signed the bill into law. Later this year Tobacco 21 will go into effect in Texas, with exemptions for those serving in the military and those who will be 18 before the bill goes into effect.
Behind the Curtain, Rumors, and Suspicions.
With how large the Juul epidemic has become, Juul Labs has certainly made some waves, shaken some hands, and had some back-room talks. They are now a platinum board member of the VTA (Vapor Technology Association), which seems like a conflict of interest since they are also a company that is 35% owned by Altria (again, Marlboro), and supposedly Altria has an option to buy in further.
Scott Gottlieb, previous commissioner of the FDA had several talks with Juul. He listened to them for a degree of guidance as a large part of the vaping industry. However, many things that Gottlieb stated as potential possibilities, would have hurt Juul terribly. Many of his criticisms of vaping did not fall on traditional vaping systems, but rather those offered by Juul.
During a period where Gottlieb was in meetings with Juul and Altria, a rumor broke that Gottlieb was actually resigning as commissioner of the FDA. He claimed that this was due to a need to spend more time with his family. Still, the timing seemed far from coincidental. He later as described on CNBC claimed that one of these meetings was “difficult” and gave said he “did not come away with any evidence that public health concerns drove Altria’s decision to invest in Juul,” and instead said “it looks like a business decision.”
A less reputable rumor, but one none the less, Juul is already working on software for an insulin vape pen. With insulin being extremely costly and nearly unaffordable for many of those with diabetic conditions, this entry into big pharma would be an immense cash crop for Juul.
Altria Monopolizing Tobacco Industry with Juul
The biggest suspicion of all is that Altria saw an opportunity in Juul. That with cigarette sales lower than ever, they saw something they could grab a hold of. They could ensure Juul to be the ONLY future of vaping. With their resources and influences, they could mold laws and regulations. Along with the help of Juul to eliminate traditional vaping systems, leaving Juul the only vaping alternative to traditional tobacco. When you choose between traditional tobacco products or an alternative partially (and potentially mostly) owned by traditional tobacco, then Altria does not need to fight anymore.
The “Dual Use” Problem
One of the things that have become increasingly more common is “dual use”. This is using both cigarettes and Juul in conjunction with each other. While it would be hyperbole to say that no one has ever smoked cigarettes and vaped the same day, I feel confident in saying that it is far less common. More traditional open vaping systems are far less costly than Juul. When people see that they are saving that much money it is a huge incentive to make a complete switch. Additionally, open vaping systems sit further away from the experience of a traditional cigarette. A wide range of flavors, as well as retailers offering these products, makes vaping a convenient switch.
The vast majority of vape shops will not have tobacco products on the shelves. However, if you stop by a gas station for some Juul pods, cigarettes are right there on the shelves. It makes the idea of picking up both a very simple one. While we can not make any claim regarding health, you can find several people online referring to dual-use. Some say they had more problems while dual using than they did just using one or the other.
So if not Juul, then what?
MANY products on the market provide a similar experience to the Juul, with more released constantly. Many of these products are “open” pod systems, such as the Aspire AVP which not only performs fantastically, but allow you to refill much larger pods multiple times, and use whichever juice you would like, giving you an endless supply of flavors to choose from. They are drastically less costly than a Juul. Rather than paying $4 for a pod with 0.7ml of e-liquid, you can pay less than $20 for a 30ml bottle. That’s 43 Juul pods of e-liquid for the cost of 5.
Closing Thoughts on the Juul Epidemic.
This post has run long, I know. I write this primarily due to a terrible frustration that an industry I am very passionate about is in danger. Not only that but frustration that our biggest threat came from the inside. Juul seemed to have the same mission that we do at first. I understand that this is America. I understand that all of this is “just business” for these gargantuan companies. For myself, however, vaping had the potential to take down traditional tobacco, not be a way to prop it up.