The last month has been busy for Juul Labs. First, on September 28 the e-cigarette giant was subject to a surprise inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) related to the alleged marketing of its products to minors. Then beginning Oct. 3, JUUL filed more than a dozen lawsuits accusing “copycat” companies of infringing on the company’s patents and marketing e-cigarette flavors like “Bubble Bubble,” “Apple Juice,” and “Sour Gummy” to attract younger users.
According to a statement issued by Juul Labs on Oct. 4, the company has also filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), alleging that more than 15 entities based in China, the U.S., and France are infringing on Juul’s patents. Juul’s complaint demands the ITC block the “continued importation, distribution, selling, and marketing of the identified products in the U.S.” Juul has a similar court action planned for the U.K.
“Intellectual property laws protect both innovation and consumers,” said Gerald Masoudi, Chief Legal Officer of Juul Labs. “Although we welcome legitimate competition, we will continue to utilize every legal option available to us to keep copy-cat and illegal counterfeit products off the market. Juul Labs believes that such products infringe our intellectual property and, in many cases, may present risks to consumers in terms of quality and underage access.”
Juul appears to have a lot to protect. A relative newcomer to the e-cigarette industry that introduced its flavored nicotine pods just a little over three years ago, Juul now dominates the U.S. e-cigarette market with a 72.8%, according to a recent CNBC report. The company, based in San Francisco, recorded sales of $1.29 billion over the past year, more than half of the $2.31 billion logged for the entire industry.
But critics say the popularity of the devices among young people has boosted the company’s sales at the expense of the health of underage users. While Juul claims it is committed to preventing underage use, some of the most popular features of their device seem to indicate otherwise:
Affordable pricing – $20 per device, refills 4/$30
Slim, odorless, and easy-to-conceal design, very similar to a USB flash drive that can be charged in a laptop port
Customized “skins” featuring GenZ cult brands like Supreme
An abundance of youthful flavors of its own, such as fruit, mango, and cotton candy.
Juul Labs alleges that although it applies strict age gating when selling products through its website, these copycat manufacturers often sell their products without any age limitations. But many of Juul’s products are being sold with little or no age-verification processes and, as a result, “Juuling” is exploding in popularity in U.S. schools, according to media reports.
Smoking e-cigarettes is less conspicuous than traditional cigarettes, even while in class. According to a Time report, school districts in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Wisconsin have begun to amend policies to address the issue. To combat the spread of the devices, some schools have even banned flash drives to avoid any confusion. One Arlington, Va., high school even took down the main entrance doors from student bathrooms to deter students from vaping while inside. But despite all these efforts, Juuling is as popular as ever, and many students likely think what they are doing is harmless.
Electronic, or E-cigarettes, also known as “vapes,” “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “tank systems,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS),” are battery-operated devices that heat up liquid nicotine, generating an aerosol for users to inhale. While e-cigarette manufacturers like Juul say their devices are made for adults, they are manufactured in a way that attracts underage users. More than 1,500 varieties of the devices are now available, with different looks, settings and flavors that make them appealing to children, who see a new product that is flavored and supposedly safer than traditional cigarettes.
But are e-cigarettes safe?
Although e-cigs contain fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes and may be safer, they are far from safe. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), Juul has about twice the amount of nicotine of many other e-cigarettes, leading to a higher risk for addiction. Juul cartridges last about 200 puffs and contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, although one study found that 63% of Juul users ages 15-24 didn’t realize that the device contained any nicotine at all. Nicotine can impair adolescent brain development that typically continues into a person’s early to mid-20s. Vaping can also expose people to heavy metals like lead, flavorings that have been linked to lung disease, small particles that can be inhaled into the lungs, and chemicals that can cause cancer.
Although Juul markets its e-cigarette as a smoking alternative, not a smoking cessation tool, Ashley Gould, chief administrative officer at Juul Labs, insists that the product was designed to help adult smokers quit cigarettes, not to give kids the opportunity to vape in school. “It was absolutely not made to look like a USB port. It was absolutely not made to look discreet, for kids to hide them at school,” she said. “It was made to not look like a cigarette, because when smokers stop they don’t want to be reminded of cigarettes.”
But whether Juuling can actually help someone quit smoking is another topic for debate. E-cigarettes are not approved by the FDA as a quit-smoking aid, and according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, smokers trying to quit may actually have less success if they use e-cigarettes, since they are buying an over-the-counter product instead of utilizing another more proven, safe, and effective method to stop smoking, preferably under the guidance of a professional.