Juul Labs says it will try to slow teenagers’ use of its wildly popular e-cigarette products by changing the way it markets and sells the device, its CEO said in a statement Tuesday.
The changes come after federal regulators criticized Juul and other manufacturers of vaping products for using backdoor strategies to market to young people or for not doing enough to prevent their appeal to minors who’ve never smoked conventional cigarettes. Juul Labs has said its product was designed for smoking cessation by adults who are trying to quit traditional cigarettes and that it didn’t intend to market to teens.
Juuls are very small, easily confused with a USB flash drive, and very popular among students in some schools. Teens smuggle Juuls in their shirt sleeves, vape them in bathroom stalls, and even share online videos of their peers puffing away in classrooms.
Principals tell Education Week that the devices are popular across student groups, and that some of their students appear to have developed nicotine addiction by using them.
“To paraphrase [Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott] Gottlieb, we want to be the off-ramp for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes, not an on-ramp for America’s youth to initiate on nicotine,” Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement on the company’s website. “We won’t be successful in our mission to serve adult smokers if we don’t narrow the on-ramp. Our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products. But intent is not enough, the numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarette products is a problem. We must solve it.”
The Food and Drug Administration had threatened increased enforcement activities if Juul didn’t provide a satisfactory plan to stem its use by minors.
“We cannot risk a whole generation of kids getting addicted to nicotine,” Gottlieb said earlier this month as he announced a public hearing on teen vaping, which he has called an epidemic. “We must put strategies in place now to help those who are already addicted quit.”
Among the steps Juul announced Tuesday:
- Juul will prohibit traditional retail stores, like convenience stores, from selling flavors that are popular among young people—cucumber, mango, creme, and fruit—selling those flavors online through a website that verifies each user’s age.
- The company will limit online sales to prohibit bulk buying by users who may intend to resell the devices to minors.
- Juul will shut down most of its social media accounts, limiting communications to non-promotional messages on Twitter and age-restricted content about smoking cessation on YouTube.
- Additional “secret shoppers” will visit retail stores to ensure they are abiding by age restrictions.
Will the steps be enough to slow the popularity of teen vaping? Time will tell. But in the meantime, the products continue to create disciplinary challenges for schools, as Education Week correspondent Kavitha Cardoza explains in this video.
Learn more about Juul, teen vaping:
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.