Juuling: A “Healthy” Alternative To Smoking?

The rates of traditional cigarette smoking are at an all-time low in America thanks to increased taxes and increased awareness around its negative effects. In fact, in lieu of success in reducing cigarette smoking by raising taxes, Washington D.C. recently proposed to increase the tax on cigarettes by a further $2, from $2.94 to $4.94. Regulations have driven up their price substantially in recent years, and the average cost of a pack of cigarettes sits at $7.62 today. However, these statistics don’t account for the rise of a new alternative product: the e-cigarette. Teens in particular have succumbed to this phenomenon, one that has posed regulatory difficulties within the government and at middle and high schools around the country.

James Monsees and Adam Bowen were graduate students at Stanford studying entrepreneurship when they came up with the idea of an electronic cigarette as a better alternative to smoking and founded their company Juul Labs. The product resembles a sleek USB flash drive and contains tobacco in a liquid concentration of 5% nicotine that is significantly higher than its competitors in the e-cigarette market. The liquid Juul pods need to be replaced every so often, but for heavy smokers, Juul is a cheaper alternative, averaging $43 a month. While the product is highly addictive, the mission statement on company’s website is to “improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers.”

Juul Labs has tried to shift customers away from cigarettes by creating a product that is sleek, modern, and efficient. Among younger users, in middle and high school especially, it is common to buy into the Juuling trend for the presentation factor, not necessarily for the rush given by the product.

The Juul has completely dominated the market for e-cigarettes: a recent sales analysis conducted by Wells Fargo estimates that the product holds close to half of the entire market’s $2 billion in revenues. It is the most popular e-cigarette, but also the product with the greatest concentration of nicotine; the company claims that one Juul liquid pod delivers the same jolt as a pack of cigarettes (200 puffs).

One of the major concerns around this product is its appeal to minors. Juul pods come in nine different flavors including Mango, Cool Mint, and Cool Cucumber. While the company prohibits minors from buying their products, the colorful packaging and various flavor options suggests otherwise. In fact, their strategic marketing appeal and sweet flavors make them especially attractive to younger individuals, which heightens concerns over whether they are as addicting as cigarettes.

The FDA has requested info on marketing strategy by Juul Labs but has struggled to implement stronger regulations aside from raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21 years old last August. Juul Labs combats this concern with the claim that e-cigarettes can help adults who don’t want to be reminded of the flavor of cigarettes as they come off of smoking. Despite the fact that it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors, however, sales of e-cigarettes to the 18 and under age group has skyrocketed.

As of now, the research on e-cigarettes is incredibly limited, but it has been shown that teens who try e-cigarettes are three times more likely to try cigarettes later on in life. If they are gateway products to cigarettes, then the connection between the two might arise from a change in users’ perceptions of smoking. After all, the more that people smoke e-cigarettes, the more likely users are to express a lower degree of concern over the harms and dangers of smoking overall.

Right now, the question remains whether this tasteful product should be lauded as an entrepreneurial marvel or denounced as reversing the steps that have been taken to curtail smoking.