The number of middle school and high school students using e-cigarettes and vaping has increased significantly in recent years, prompting the United States Surgeon General and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to deem it an epidemic.
Approximately four million students said they vape according to recent studies, an increase of nearly two million users. One of the major players in the recent rise in usage is Juul. Founded in 2015, the San Francisco-based company boasts a mission "to improve the lives of the world's one billion adult smokers."
Yet many of Juul's products appeared to be targeted toward adolescents, enticed by flavors including mint, creme, mango, cucumber and mango. Not only were the flavors appealing to a younger demographic, but Juul's USB flash drive-esque design made the product small and easy to conceal in a backpack, hoodie, or pocket.
This caused the FDA to issue a warning letter to Juul Labs Inc. in September 2019 for marketing to adolescents following a Congressional hearing.
"We remain committed to using all available tools to ensure that e-cigarettes and other tobacco products aren’t being marketed or sold to kids," said acting FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless MD. "We’ve also put the industry on notice: If the disturbing rise in youth e-cigarette use continues, especially through the use of flavors that appeal to kids, we’ll take even more aggressive action."
Juul stopped selling its flavored pod products in October 2019 ahead of the nationwide ban on selling certain flavored e-cigarette products which went into effect on February 6, 2020. Only menthol and tobacco flavors are permitted for sale, though that doesn't stop the black market sale of flavored products.
Eighty percent of adolescents surveyed said they began tobacco use via a flavored product. Researchers found more than 15,500 unique e-cigarette flavors online as of 2017.
"E-cigarettes and vaping were initially intended to help adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes," says Dr. Joshua Mansour, a physician who specializes in oncology, hematology and internal medicine. "Unfortunately younger consumers have also picked up this dangerous habit. Unlike the foul taste and musty odor of traditional tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges come in a multitude of flavors, with colorful packaging that appeals to a wide age range, including children.
"It is tough to outright say that Juul targeted teens knowing that they would get hooked, but unfortunately many of them have been hooked."