By: Nathan Hakakian | Business  | 

The Crown JUUL

Outside just about any college campus, students can be seen sucking on a USB look-alike and trailed by a cloud of scented vapor. This growing sensation, “JUULING” (pronounced jeweling), has taken the nation by storm, becoming especially popular amongst youth, with the number of high-school students using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days increasing by roughly 75 percent (or about 3 million) since the same 30-day period last year.

Why JUUL? What sets it apart from other forms of e-cigarettes? For starters, the sleek design makes it very appealing, fitting comfortably in one’s pocket. Additionally, the use of JUUL is quite simple, with the device containing two parts: The JUUL device and the JUUL pod. The JUUL device has a charge that can last for about a day and can be charged in a USB port. The pods contain a multitude of flavorings and 0.7mL e-liquid with 5 percent nicotine and last for about 200 puffs. These flavors have become fan-favorites amongst youth, with flavors such as Cool Cucumber and Mango dominating the market. Each JUUL device sells for approximately $35, while the pods sell for $16, according to JUUL’s website.

Founded originally in 2015, JUUL Labs is currently valued at 15 billion dollars. The San Francisco start-up has increased sales by 800 percent, accounting for 71 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market.

But according to JUUL Lab’s CEO, Kevin Burns, youth were never the target market. Instead, according to Burns, JUUL’s mission is to eliminate the use of cigarettes, trying to veer over 1 billion smokers to a healthier alternative. JUUL has taken a very clear stance on youth using their product, stating, “We are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke, from using our products. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try (JUUL).” JUUL has even committed to donating $30 million over the course of three years to fund independent research to this cause. JUUL will also support state and federal initiatives to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21.

But is this a case of too little too late? Although JUULING appeals to youth, many are uninformed about the numerous health risks associated with JUUL. According to a recent study conducted by the National Youth Tobacco Survey, each JUUL pod contains just as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. The average nicotine concentration of a JUUL pod is 5 percent, which is over double the nicotine concentration of an average e-cigarette (2.4 percent). This can be attributed to JUUL’s innovative patented formula that combines nicotine with salt. The salt mixture likely makes the vapor less harsh, allowing users to easily inhale more strongly and for a longer period of time.

Additionally, studies have shown that the same toxic metals found in cigarettes, such as cadmium, beryllium, nickel and chromium are also found in JUUL. Other studies have linked the use of e-cigarette to an increased risk of heart attack.

With this in mind, the FDA has begun to take a more active role. It has announced that it plans to limit the number of flavors that are being sold by JUUL, eliminating flavors such as Mint, Cucumber and Mango. In July 2017, the FDA said it was considering lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes and delayed the deadline to 2022 for electronic-cigarette companies to submit applications to the FDA. The FDA even conducted a surprise inspection of JUUL Labs’ headquarters, collecting more than one thousand pages of documents focusing on sales and marketing practices with regard to the youth population. The FDA has mandated a 60-day window beginning in September for JUUL and four other leading e-cigarette companies to establish plans for youth prevention.

While the United States’ regulations are still in flux, JUUL has begun expanding internationally, building a presence in the United Kingdom and Israel. This comes at a very opportune time, as the smokeless tobacco and vapor product market hit $1.72 billion, up 33 percent from 2017. But the U.K. product has variations, as it only contains 1.7 percent nicotine, complying to the strict regulations of the European Union Tobacco Products Directive. Additionally, the JUUL device sells for $10 cheaper and most of the flavors are available, some with different names. Israel, on the other hand, has taken an active stance, as it announced in August that it planned to ban JUUL, claiming it possess “a grave risk to public health.” With JUUL containing almost three times the recommended amount of nicotine, Israeli officials felt that the introduction of a new e-cigarette would further set back their efforts to reduce cancer, the number one leading cause of death in Israel.

While the use of JUUL and other e-cigarettes continue to grow, scientists are hoping that new studies, as well as other government regulations, can stunt the growth of the so-called e-cigarette monster. The hope is that lower nicotine levels and less appealing flavors will trim sales amongst youth. But until official standards and strict regulations are enforced, JUUL will continue to lead the market in sales, predominantly appealing to both non-smokers and youth.