This bit of world vaping news comes after federal lawsuits arose in 2020 citing that Juul was marketing their products to minors. Nearly two years after the company altered their advertising and youth use of their products dropped significantly, media outlets announced last month that the FDA would soon be banning Juul products, sending the company’s stocks tumbling over 10%. Now, they’re facing a total ban from the FDA.
But is this really the end for Juul products in the US?
Juul & Youth Marketing
Juul has a history of marketing to minors in the US, and this has spurred a long-running debate over e-cigarette marketing. The company’s marketing strategies aren’t the FDA’s cited reason for issuing the MDOs, but they’re most definitely a large factor as to why they’ve pursued banning Juul products.
Juul Labs began using social media to market their products in 2015 and 2016, which was a unique and cost-effective strategy which saw a massive boom in the popularity of their products.
The darker side to this innovative marketing strategy was that they were employing influencers and brand affiliates to market their products online, many of whom had an under-18 audience. Plus, given the user demographics of social media, these ads inevitably fell into the hands of minors. In addition, many criticised Juul for following “Big Tobacco’s playbook” in marketing to minors—specifically, the company employed similar imagery to historical ads used by tobacco companies to advertise to young people, including themes of sex appeal, freedom, relaxation, and community. These images, paired with bright colours and modern patterns, seemed to be targeted at young people.
This led to a slew of lawsuits aimed at Juul, who then completely re-branded and changed their marketing tactics. They even removed all of their fruit and candy-flavoured E-Liquid pods from the market, leaving only tobacco and menthol flavours, and signed agreements about future marketing practices. Most recently, they created a device (which hasn’t been released yet) that utilises Bluetooth technology to deter youth usage.
After Juul changed their tactics, it’s important to note that youth use of their products saw a significant decline. A survey found that youth use in the past 30 days among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders declined from 28.3% in 2019 to just 4.8% in 2021.
Why have Juul products been banned?
The US is heavily focused on the “danger” posed by vaping to children, which led to the FDA requiring all vape manufacturers—not just Juul—to submit PMTAs (premarket tobacco product applications) for their products to be cleared for sale.
Problem is, even when these companies submitted their applications as required, the FDA responded in September of 2021 by rejecting over 946,000 applications—and not accepting a single one.
The FDA’s reasoning? Because “their applications lacked sufficient evidence that they have a benefit to adult smokers sufficient to overcome the public health threat posed by the well-documented, alarming levels of youth use of such products.”
The problem with this is that these vape companies were never told that their applications were to include this information at all. Many companies spent tens of thousands of dollars (Juul spent over $100 million) to complete these applications, and as a result of their rejections (and the cost of completing the lab analyses required for the applications), a number of these vape companies had to close their businesses.
The FDA stated, “As we have said before, the burden is on the applicant to provide evidence to demonstrate that permitting the marketing of their product meets the applicable statutory standard.”
Essentially, the FDA was expecting companies to guess what that ‘applicable statutory standard’ was.
Fast-forward to the Juul MDOs. The FDA has said that Juul Labs failed in the same way that the rest of the vaping companies did, despite having submitted an intensely thorough and lengthy application (which, again, cost them $100 million).
Importantly, in the FDA’s statement, they said: “To date, the FDA has not received clinical information to suggest an immediate hazard associated with the use of the JUUL device or JUULpods.”
Clive Bates, an advocate for vaping and harm reduction, stated, “FDA’s reasoning does not rely on youth vaping or the usual (unfounded) criticisms of Juul, but on a vague and generalised concern that they do not have enough evidence to do a toxicology assessment. They are not saying there is an actual problem, just that the evidence provided by Juul falls short of an unspecified standard.”
In essence, the FDA is scrambling for reasons to ban Juul products. Nevermind the fact that it’s the most successful anti-smoking device ever made.
Juul responded to the FDA’s MDOs in a statement, saying, “We respectfully disagree with the FDA’s findings and decision and continue to believe we have provided sufficient information and data based on high-quality research to address all issues raised by the agency.”
Is Juul dead in the US?
No—not yet, at least.
As previously mentioned, Juul has an outstanding application with the FDA for its next-gen device, which features Bluetooth technology aimed at deterring usage by minors.
In addition, Juul is seeking an administrative stay, which would allow their products to remain on the market while they appeal the FDA’s decision.
For now, it may seem bleak for adult users of Juul products in the US.
But in truth, if Juul Labs brings this to court, the FDA will have a tough time justifying their decision, as their reasoning doesn’t stem from a problem with the product but from a lack of “sufficient evidence.”
What does the Juul decision mean for vapers?
Unfortunately, Juul products are but one casualty in the war against vaping in the US, which is counterintuitive given the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are killed each year from smoking cigarettes. This blatant attack on the vaping industry is contrasted by the +3,000 unchecked cigarette products on the market which are largely untouched by FDA regulation.
This decision doesn’t just mean that American vapers are losing access to the most successful stop-smoking device ever created. It’s also a signal to vape companies that the FDA can ban smoking cessation products for whatever reason they see fit.
While this decision can seem like the be-all-end-all, Juul products aren’t dead just yet. The company still has time to appeal the FDA’s decision. Plus, their newest device hasn’t been rejected just yet.