After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed its plans to restrict sales of flavored e-cigarettes last year, Juul Labs, which makes the dominant brand, pre-emptively stopped supplying most of its pod varieties to brick-and-mortar stores. Yesterday, a month after the FDA said it would ban every e-cigarette flavor except tobacco, Juul announced that it will no longer sell most of its flavors online either. While tobacco, mint, and menthol pods are still available on Juul’s website, the company says it will not resume selling mango, fruit, cucumber, or “creme” unless and until the FDA officially approves those products. The agency won’t do that until it has reviewed a “premarket tobacco application” (PMTA) for each flavor.
“Given the lack of trust in our industry, we believe the FDA’s PMTA process and its ‘appropriate for the protection of the public health’ standard are the best ways to assess the role these products can play in helping adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes while also being kept out of the hands of youth,” Juul explained in a press release. “We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” said Juul’s new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite.
Juul, which had a market share of more than 70 percent as of August, is trying to placate federal regulators with life-and-death powers over the vaping industry by addressing concerns about recent increases in e-cigarette use by teenagers. But in the process, the company is throwing its customers under the bus.
Even though Juul’s online store has an age verification system aimed at making sure that buyers are at least 21, former smokers who prefer the suspended flavors will no longer be able to buy them. That policy implicitly makes two dangerous concessions that the company may come to regret: 1) that it’s reasonable to restrict adults’ choices in the name of reducing underage consumption, and 2) that flavors other than tobacco, menthol, and mint are suspect because they appeal to teenagers, even though they are also very popular among adults who switch from smoking to vaping.
“JUUL has made it clear time and time again that they will not fight for their adult customers, many of whom rely on JUUL’s flavored products to stay smoke-free,” said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, in a press release. “This cowardly, self-serving move by JUUL won’t do a thing to make their congressional opponents stop detesting them. In fact, it will only open them up to questions about why they are continuing to sell mint, which is their most popular flavor with both youth and adults by virtue of it being the only non-tobacco JUUL flavor available at retail aside from menthol.”
Sure enough, billionaire busybody Michael Bloomberg, who is backing efforts to ban flavored e-cigarettes, immediately questioned Juul’s sincerity. “Juul knows that nearly two-thirds of high school students who use e-cigarettes now use mint or menthol flavors, which is driving Juul’s bottom line,” New York’s former mayor said. “This is precisely why the FDA must honor its commitment to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the shelves as quickly as possible.”
If the FDA proceeds with its plan to eliminate all e-liquid flavors except tobacco, Bloomberg no doubt will have a new complaint: Look at all the teenagers using tobacco-flavored pods! Clearly, the FDA did not go far enough.
“There is a reason many adults aged 21 and over went through the hassle of purchasing flavored pods from JUUL’s website,” Conley noted. “Flavors are critical to helping adult smokers quit, and many ex-smokers get attached to particular flavors. While we hope that JUUL users will visit their local vape shop to find an alternative, this doesn’t change the fact that some ex-smokers will likely respond to this by choosing to return to combustible cigarettes. We are sure Altria, which owns 35% of JUUL, will be pleased with any bump in Marlboro sales that follows this announcement.”
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