E-cigarette giant Juul Labs will stop some selling some sweet flavored e-cigarette pods in retail stores and quit promotion via social media. The statement from CEO Kevin Burns said that as the industry leader, Juul must lead in decreasing underage use of e-cigarettes.
“Our intent was to never have youth use Juul, but they are,” Burns’ statement said. "Youth useage is a serious problem and we are committed to solving it."
Juul reiterated that they don’t want youth to use their product, which they said is for current adult nicotine users. “It is bad for public health, and it is bad for our mission,” which the company maintained is to help adult smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
Skyrocketing youth use, both in Colorado and nationally, has prompted the FDA to announce a crackdown on access for minors. Colorado’s governor has made a similar move.
Juul will stop taking retail orders for mango-, fruit-, creme- and cucumber-flavored pods. That includes more than 90,000 retail stores that sell its product, including traditional tobacco retailers like convenience stores and specialty vape shops. Those flavors will remain available online at the company’s own website through age verified purchases.
The company said it would only renew sales of those products at retail outlets that install age-verification technology.
The announcement wasn’t enough for RJ Ours, the Colorado government relations director with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.
“They should also pull menthol products from stores and prohibit online sales of flavored products,” he said.
Teen use in Colorado has prompted pushback. You now need to be 21 to buy tobacco products in four mountain resort towns. The town of Berthoud decreed that public indoor spaces are now vape-free in a bid to restrict teen use.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order directed regulators to increase checks of retailers to make sure they do not sell to underage customers. The order also bans vaping in state buildings and on state grounds.
In Juul’s announcement, they said they will increase their secret shopper program to verify that retailers follow their guidelines on product purchase.
Many public health advocates are skeptical about the moves from Juul. The suspension of flavored pod sales “reminds me of many other ‘shows’ big tobacco has made over the years,” said Ben Miller, chief strategy officer for Well Being Trust. “Kids are using [and] becoming addicted because of these new delivery mechanisms and that’s what they [companies like Juul] want. The social-flavor side is a distraction.”
Alison Reidmohr, Tobacco Communication Specialist with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, gave credit to Juul for the move, “because it is true that flavored tobacco and vaping products do hook kids.” She cited one study that found 80 percent of tobacco users started with a flavored product. However, she doubts that Juul’s actions will keep flavors out of the hands of kids.
“That’s why regulatory action from the FDA, state government, and local government is critical,” she said. For her, “licensing tobacco retailers would be the most effective way to ensure that sellers of vape products are obeying age laws and not selling to minors.”