by Alyssa Davenport, FJA Communications Coordinator
There’s an alarming resurgence of nicotine addiction among youth. E-cigarettes (namely Juul Lab’s product ‘Juuls’) are becoming a concern for parents, educators, and lawmakers due to their addictive nature and sly marketing techniques.
Juuls are slim, pocket-sized devices that resemble USB flash drives but deliver a powerful punch of nicotine when inhaled. One ‘pod,’ which is the nicotine-containing piece that is inserted and inhaled from the Juul, contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. ‘Juuling,’ a term used to describe the vaping and inhaling of this specific product, is popular among teens due to the marketing nature. Juuls come in a variety of flavors, including mint and mango, and are packaged in bright colors. The Juul advertisements show young, attractive people, surrounded by flashes of appealing colors, who are “posed flirtatiously sharing the flash-drive shaped device, displaying behavior like dancing to club-like music.”
The reason for the resounding alarm is rooted in the history of the cigarette makers’ targeting and marketing practices. In a 1973 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company memo, a company official proposed marketing cigarette to underage smokers. According to a 1995 Washington Post report, RJR executive Claude Teague outlined a strategy for luring young people to begin smoking in the document, “Research Planning Memorandum on Some Thoughts About New Brands of Cigarettes for the Youth Market.”
Along with admitting, “Nicotine is known to be a habit-forming alkaloid,” Teague, an RJR research and development official, wrote, “We are presently, and I believe unfairly, constrained from directly promoting cigarettes to the youth market. … [W]e should simply recognize that many or most of the 21 and under’ group will inevitably become smokers, and offer them an opportunity to use our brands.” The official went on to say, “suggested that the new product should be marketed as a way to fight “stress . . . awkwardness, boredom” and other pressures of the teenage years, and as a way of achieving “membership in a group, one of the group’s primary values being individuality.”
Several lawsuits across the country have been brought against the California-based company Juul Labs. The most recent lawsuit comes from a Sarasota family, accusing the company of discreetly marketing to teens and essentially fueling the youth nicotine addiction. Juul Labs began its marketing campaign in 2015. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by 2017 the teenage tobacco user number increased by 1.3 million. The combination of the company’s marketing, subtle packaging, and the product’s ability to be easily concealed has created a dangerous combination. As in the case with the Florida teen, many minors do not even realize the product contains nicotine until they are hooked.
Nicotine addiction has several intense side effects, ranging from nausea and heartburn, to high blood pressure and seizures. Exposure to nicotine can also have lasting effects on the parts of the brain controlling attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. Considering that the brain is not fully developed until 25, this is very concerning to parents with teenaged users. The CDC sites a 2018 study done by the National Academy of Medicine report as evidence that the usage of e-cigarettes in minor increases the frequency and amount of cigarette smoking in the future. It is still unclear if Juuls possess any cancer risks. While many experts believe that, yes, Juuling may be ‘less harmful than cigarettes,’ experts recommend keeping in mind that regular cigarettes are one of the deadliest products on the market.
Regarding the accusations, Juul Labs has not commented on the lawsuits. However, the company has previously stated that they have already adopted an aggressive plan to combat this underage epidemic of users. Last year, Juul Labs removed the flavored pods from store shelves and is imposing stricter age verification for online sales. They are also supportive of raising the purchase age from 18 to 21.
Researchers and health advocates urge parents and educators to keep a closer eye on their kids and students. E-cigarettes are easy to conceal, and exhalation of the nicotine is odorless. This makes it easy for young people to conceal usage. Analysts expect the legal attack on Juul’s marketing techniques towards teens could spur a wave of lawsuits. Given that one in five high school students uses a Juul, Florida parents are expected to go after the tobacco industry, and Juul labs itself, to combat this growing public health concern.