By: Shlomit Ebbin  | 

Bioethics in Practice: Can Producers Leave Out Details to Gain Consumers — The Effects of Juul’s Marketing

We’ve all heard of the Juul, whether we’ve seen the flash drive-like product on the streets, the murky vapor produced by someone in our dorm, or we own one ourselves. While Juuling was created to wean adult smokers off of cigarettes, there are those that claim that it, in fact, wasn’t marketed that way; rather, it targeted teens and young adults who weren’t already smokers. Additionally, they claim that the true health cost of Juuling wasn’t sufficiently publicized, causing many people to get sick and even die due to vaping related diseases. Is Juul directly responsible for these deaths, and for causing a generation of teenagers to become addicted to nicotine? 

Juul is a vaping product created by Adam Bowen and James Monsees as an alternative to smoking. Both were smokers themselves, and decided there had to be a safe and easy way to stop smoking. Their website states that their mission is to “[improve] the lives of the world’s one billion smokers by eliminating cigarettes.” They realized that the Juul had to contain a higher percentage of nicotine than other products claiming to help people abstain from smoking to wean people off cigarettes. Some benefits of the Juul include the fact that it’s odorless, in contrast to the stench associated with smoking, as well as a 99% reduction of formaldehyde and carbon monoxide particles in secondhand vapor, compared to that of combustible cigarettes. 

A study printed in the New England Journal of Medicine found that e-cigarettes are nearly twice as likely to enable a person to quit smoking than nicotine replacement therapy. Another study published in the Harm Reduction Journal found that three months after adult smokers purchased a Juul vaporizer, 28.3% reported having not smoked a cigarette for at least 30 days. They also found that the rate of quitting was notably much higher for people who used the Juul vaporizer daily, as well as those who typically used a Juul vaporizer containing mint and mango flavored pods. The Juul website includes many stories of people who have successfully used the Juul to stop smoking. Former smokers talk about how much the Juul has improved their lives, whether it be that they don’t have to be self-conscious about smelling like smoke anymore or that they don’t have to interrupt their workflow to step outside for a cigarette. Users are excited about how easy the Juul product is to use and are grateful for the impact it has had on their journey to abstain from smoking. 

While the use of Juul has been proven beneficial to some cigarette smokers, the product itself is not entirely danger-free. Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., the director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, shares that “vaping is less harmful than smoking, but it’s still not safe.” Juuls have 5% nicotine in their e-liquid, which is more than double the amount of other vaping products. Each Juul pod contains the amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, which means that smokers who were only going through a couple of cigarettes a day are consuming more nicotine on a Juul device. On top of that, the National Center for Health Research reveals that the nicotine that Juuls use are “nicotine salts,” as opposed to the chemically modified form called “freebase nicotine” that other brands utilize. Nicotine salts “more closely resemble the natural structure of nicotine found in tobacco leaves. This makes the nicotine more readily absorbed into the bloodstream and makes the vapor less harsh so that it is easier to inhale more nicotine for longer periods of time.” The higher dose of nicotine increases the risk of addiction, not to mention that it increases blood pressure and heart rate. In rare cases, this can lead to heart failure, but a person who vapes long term may be looking at serious medical problems, such as lung disease and chronic bronchitis. With this product being such a new phenomenon, it’s hard to say exactly what the long-lasting effects are; however, new research is showing that there is more danger than the Juul Company is letting on.

The Juul Company is currently facing numerous lawsuits in several states based on allegations of deceptive marketing. The plaintiffs allege that the Juul Company utilizes flashy marketing techniques targeted at teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration show that one in four high schoolers and one in 10 middle schoolers vape. Some claims include that Juul violated consumer protection laws by failing to disclose material facts about the health and safety risks Juul consumers are exposed to, and failing to disclose how much nicotine its products contain. Many consumers feel they were led to believe that Juul products could be used without any negative health consequences. The flavors, some of which have been banned in certain states, are appealing to young adults and teens. An article published in the New York Times claimed that “Juul’s remarkable rise to resurrect and dominate the e-cigarette business came after it began targeting consumers in their 20s and early 30s, a generation with historically low smoking rates, in a furious effort to reward investors and capture market share before the government tightened regulations on vaping.” James Monsees, the co-founder of the company, insisted they “never wanted any non-nicotine users and certainly nobody underage to ever use Juul products.” But the facts point out that in the blink of an eye, Juuls have become ever-prevalent among teens and have hooked a new generation of people on nicotine. 

The Juul Company is trying to save face amid all the allegations placed against it, claiming that Juul is doing more good than harm. The prohibition of geneivat da’at includes deception, cheating and creating a false impression. While they might be safer than cigarettes, Juuls are certainly not harmless. And the “coolness” factor of Juuls looks an awful lot like a stumbling block placed in front of blind, naive teenagers. 

Photo Caption: A man using a Juul device
Photo Credit: Lindsay Fox