JUUL is the vape giant that went from zero to $16 billion in three years. Truth Initiative is the largest anti-smoking organization in the United States.
Both the company and the non-profit claim to have the same goal: helping smokers quit tobacco cigarettes. But Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, hasn’t been shy about slamming JUUL.
“The fact that JUUL is acting like, ‘What, young people are using JUUL? We never intended that to happen,’ is a little disingenuous,” she said.
Oh yes, that. Teenagers love JUUL. Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are filled with #juul references. These days, downtime at college is basically all about posting Stories of yourself JUULing to Drake.
The devices are sleek, small, and everywhere. There’s no need to refill them with liquid — just pop in a new JUULpod. They even recharge via USB.
Unlike some vapes, they deliver a lot of nicotine. The company says each JUULpod contains 5 percent nicotine, about as much as a pack of cigarettes. Early on, the company reached plenty of young people on social media with ads of models living their best #vapelife.
The blowback from parents and the press has been severe. In response, JUUL removed models from its feeds, which now only feature ex-smokers sharing their stories. It committed $30 million to fighting underage use of its products. The company also has a secret shopping program to carry out “random compliance checks” to make sure retail stores aren’t selling to minors.
Koval wants JUUL to do more. She dismissed the $30 million that JUUL is spending as a “rounding error” for a company that just raised $1.2 billion from investors.
“Frankly, if they really wanted to do something to impact youth sales, they could voluntarily comply with all of the rules that got postponed until 2022,” she said.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that e-cigarette makers would have to submit their products for review by this summer. Trump administration officials delayed that deadline until 2022, saying that it didn’t want to stifle innovation.
JUUL said that it supports “effective legislation and regulation,” but hasn’t stated support for the FDA rules. And the company has spent $240,000 on lobbyists in hopes of influencing e-cig regulations, according to Wired.
And not everyone is convinced that $30 million will keep young people from trying JUUL.
“Tobacco companies have a long history of creating and promoting their own programs which they say are for ‘youth smoking prevention,'” said Pamela Ling, professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Those programs were simply “PR tools to avoid regulation,” she said. And JUUL could be following the same strategy.
“As far as I know, there is no published evidence that the JUUL youth program actually decreases youth use of JUUL.”
Then there’s the issue of teen-friendly flavors, most notably mango and “fruit medley.” Koval wants them off the market. JUUL insists fruity flavors help smokers who “don’t want to be reminded of the tobacco-taste of a cigarette.”
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