By Evan Shields
The sleek, slim vaporizer JUUL, which originated in 2015 in San Francisco’s PAX Labs, has grown over the past few years to dominate the e-cigarette market. As of September 2018, JUUL has a reported market share of 72%, and by October, the stylish e-cigarette manufacturer had surpassed Facebook as the fasted-growing startup in United States history by reaching a valuation of $10 billion faster than any previous business. However, JUUL’s subtle appearance and marketing tactics have raised controversy among parents and the FDA. A JUUL is only a couple inches long and a fraction of an inch wide, and its ability to charge in a computer’s USB port have made observers liken its appearance to that of a thumb drive. That subtlety has raised allegations that a JUUL is too easy to conceal, which promotes usage among minors, yet that is not JUUL’s main problem involving teenage consumption. The FDA has accused JUUL of marketing specifically to minors, as the e-cigarette uses pods with nicotine flavors such as fruit medley and crème brûlée.
Recently, the FDA categorized teenage nicotine vaporizer use as an epidemic. According to a 2017 NBC study, over three million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes. Anti-smoking groups such as Truth have begun to focus on limiting teen e-cigarette usage, although JUUL maintains that their product is targeted at adult smokers seeking a healthier alternative. Nonetheless, in mid-November, the FDA announced that JUUL had to stop selling its sweet and fruity flavored pods in retail stores, but mint, tobacco, and menthol flavors would be allowed to stay on shelves. JUUL will still be allowed to sell pods such as mango on their website’s online retailer. JUUL’s practical monopolization of the e-cigarette market may be in jeopardy due to this ban, however, as some retailers may stop selling pods entirely because of the limitations in pod flavors. Therefore, e-cigarette users may turn their focus to more easily accessible products. Furthermore, minors who are reliant on sweeter flavored pods may stop using JUUL products as well. JUUL has seemingly understood the severity of its public health crisis, as it recently shut down all of its social media accounts and is implementing an internal crackdown on sales of pods to minors. Still, the future of this startup, whose sudden expansion took the U.S. economy by storm, is uncertain.