Juul Faces Criticism, Concerns Amid Rising Success

By Beth Leipholtz 09/17/18

The company is accused of marketing its product to teens. 

Man putting JUUL nicotine dispenser together with flavor pods.

Arguably the most well-known e-cigarette on the market, Juul has seen skyrocketing sales in the past year, increasing 800%. But the success of the company isn’t without concern.

According to CNBC, Juul founders James Monsees and Adam Bowen, both former smokers, initially started a company called Ploom, which later became known as Pax Labs. In 2015, they introduced Juul, a type of e-cigarette. Two years later, it broke off into its own company called Juul Labs.

The team that initially created Juul was made up of about 20 people on a $2 million budget, CNBC states. Since then, the product has seen exponential growth. Today, the company is valued at $15 billion and makes up about 75% of the e-cigarette market.

“What we realized is people don’t want a safer cigarette, they want to move past cigarettes,” Monsees told CNBC. “It’s hard to imagine an area that can be more powerful to public health in particular than to eliminate cigarettes from the face of the earth. It is one of the most successful consumer products of all time, if not the most successful, and yet it kills more than half of all people that use them long term. We always intended to build this company around the idea of making cigarettes obsolete. We knew Juul would be the way to do that.” 

Juul contains about 40 milligrams of nicotine per cartridge. It works by vaporizing a liquid containing nicotine salts which is then inhaled by the user.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this category and about nicotine,” Bowen told CNBC. “Many people think that it’s deadly, a serious disease agent—when really alone, nicotine is quite benign. It’s a mild stimulant, and is habit-forming and can lead to dependence, and for that reason alone, no non-smoker should ever touch this product.”

While Juul's growth has been widely successful, it hasn’t been without obstacles. The company has faced various lawsuits, as well as new FDA regulations. 

“If you’d have interviewed me two years ago, I’d have said they’re maybe 25% as dangerous as a cigarette,” Stanton Glantz, UCSF Center for Tobacco Control and Education Director, told CNBC. “Now, I think they’re somewhere between three-quarters as dangerous as a cigarette and as dangerous.” 

A main criticism of the product is that it appeals to youth. One reason for this is that Juul comes in a variety of flavors. Additionally, it appears as compact as a flash drive, making it possible for kids to bring into schools without raising suspicions.

“Kids who use them have more asthma, more days off school,” Glantz told CNBC. “There is evidence linking them with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other diseases. Addiction is not a phase, it’s not something kids grow out of."

Juul’s early marketing was also accused of being problematic due to making the product appealing to youth with its social media-based campaigns. Now, the company has shifted to marketing by using testimonials from adult users of the product.

Both founders Monsees and Bowen say it’s important to focus on tobacco use prevention among youth, and have invested $30 million into that cause.

Juul must submit its product to the FDA for review by August 2022.

“We estimate we switched over a million smokers to Juul in just three years, but there are about 38 million left in the U.S. so there’s still a lot of room to grow,” Bowen told CNBC.

Juul Labs released the following statement to The Fix

JUUL Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarette smoking by offering existing adult smokers with a better alternative to combustible cigarettes. JUUL is not intended for anyone else. We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors. No minor should be in possession of a JUUL product.

Our goal is to further reduce the number of minors who possess or use tobacco products, including vapor products, and to find ways to keep young people from ever trying these products. We approach this with a combination of education, enforcement, technology and partnership with others who are focused on this issue, including lawmakers, educators and our business partners.

Nicotine is addictive. An individual who has not previously used nicotine products should not start, particularly youth. Recent science raises serious concerns about the adverse effect of nicotine on adolescent neurodevelopment.

We encourage parents to talk with their children about the dangers of nicotine. As a company we also continuously seek ways to contribute to this dialogue and knowledge base.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.