JUUL e-cigarettes have a very sleek modern appearance. They fit in the palm of one’s hand. They consist of a base, which contains the battery, into which users input a disposable cartridge called a JUULpod that contains the nicotine mixture that the device vaporizes for inhaling. JUUL starter kits also include a USB charging dock.
JUULpods come in two reported nicotine strengths—3 percent and 5 percent. The company literature reports that the 5 percent nicotine pods contain about the same amount of nicotine as one pack of traditional cigarettes. However, at least one research study, conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, has found that JUUL products deliver significantly more nicotine to the bloodstream per puff than other e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. Nicotine is a very addictive drug; many users report becoming addicted to nicotine due to their use of JUUL products.
JUUL pods used to be available in flavors such as Mint and Mango. But in early 2020, flavored pods were banned except nicotine and menthol flavor. The flavors were thought to make vaping more appealing to teens and young adults, tempting them to start vaping and endangering their health.
The liquid in the pods is a mixture of nicotine salts, glycerol, propylene glycol, benzoic acid, and flavorings. While most of the flavorings have now been banned, they did come under fire in the news for two reasons. One is that while they may have been evaluated by the FDA as food additives, for ingestion (swallowing), they had not been evaluated for vaporizing and inhaling and possible health/lung issues associated with inhaling them. In addition, the mixtures of all the ingredients have spurred lab testing as chemists point out that not only do the ingredients by themselves need investigating but heating them together creates new and possibly dangerous or undesirable new chemicals and reactions that need to be investigated, especially in light of the respiratory issues that users are experiencing.
JUUL Labs was founded in 2015, and by September 2018, the company was by far the most popular and successful e-cigarette company, with 70 percent market share and $2-billion of revenue. The founders, James Monsees and Adam Bowen, said their vision was to create a product that could help cigarette smokers reduce consumption or quit entirely, if they so desired.
In 2018, JUUL Labs and other e-cigarette companies under fire by the FDA and Federal Trade Commission for marketing policies and products the agencies thought were directed at youth. These government agencies cited the packaging and flavors of e-cigarette products that seemed aimed at young people as well as advertising on social media pages and at concerts.
In September 2019, the FDA sent a warning letter to JUUL concerning possible false advertising. As part of its ongoing investigation, the FDA alleged that JUUL was claiming that e-cigarettes are safe or safer than cigarettes—a claim that can’t be made until and unless the FDA investigates a product and deems it safe. The FDA had neither investigated nor tested e-cigarettes to determine their safety.
Late in 2019, the government raised the legal age for purchasing e-cigarette products from 18 to 21, in an effort to further protect teens and young adults who are vaping more and more, often picking up the habit without understanding the risks and health issues.
JUUL Labs is now facing lawsuits due to health issues their e-cigarette users have experienced. Headlines claim that JUUL created a “public health crisis.” Some cities and states have banned or are considering banning their products or banning some of their products. Many schools and school districts have banned vaping on their campuses.
JUUL also continues to be under fire for marketing to teens. The company disputed this claim. However, the fact that JUUL purchased ads on many youth-focused platforms in its early days (June 2015 through early 2016), including Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Seventeen magazine, contradicts that claim.