FDA cracks down on Juul’s teen marketing efforts


Gabriella Backus

Infographic by Gabriella Backus

Sydney Jasper and Heidi Wright

After decades of seeing smoking rates decline, groups like the American Lung Association were hopeful that younger generations would eliminate the habit. However, some argue that a new addictive product being marketed toward teens is reversing that trend: JUUL e-cigarettes.

Billed as a safer alternative to smoking, JUUL advertised itself as a nicotine vapor company that didn’t contain cancer-causing tobacco. With this new “healthy” label, the popularity of vaping has drastically increased. Financial service companies like the Cowen Group are observing economic growth within the vaping industry leading to more advertising dollars.

“Vaping is one of the fasted-growing segments in both nicotine and cannabis,” Cowen analyst Vivien Azer said in a report.

Instead of seeing smoking rates decline, the enticing flavors and packaging of Juuls has led to an increase in teen e-cigarette use not only in their spare time, but in their day-to-day lives.

“There has been a big increase of vaping on campus, everyone is doing it from freshmen to seniors,” campus supervisor Tony Gonzales said. “We come across more nicotine being used on campus, rather than marijuana.”

Juuls have a higher nicotine content than many other e-cigarettes. The amount of nicotine in one Juul pod is roughly equal to the amount of nicotine in an entire pack of cigarettes and is double what other e-cigarettes hold. Teens are more likely to get addicted to the flavored e-cigarettes and believe they are less harmful. However, Juuls deposit nicotine into their bloodstream — creating a head rush — without the tar that is present in cigarettes.
The primary ingredients in vape juice and pods include water, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavoring and nicotine. Each juice has a different concentration level of nicotine that should be taken into account when choosing a flavor.

Propylene glycol (PG) is a controversial chemical compound that can break down when in contact with high heats. When broken down, PG changes into polymers which can weaken lung tissue. Glycerin is considered a safe chemical in small quantities, but should not be consumed in copious amounts.

After receiving complaints from parents of addicted teens, Juul manufacturers agreed to work more proactively with the FDA. They have also promised to assist in efforts to prevent underage use of their product.

“My son got completely hooked on nicotine, leaving him anxious, highly irritable and prone to angry outbursts,” the mother of a 15-year-old boy said in an article written by Drew Schwartz titled “This Mom is Suing Juul Because Her Teen Is ‘Unable to Stop’ Vaping.”

“…the FDA said it would revisit its compliance policy for e-cigarette manufacturers announced last summer, which delayed the deadline for e-cigarette products to apply for FDA approval from August 2018 to August 2022,” Nitasha Tiku said in a Wired article named “FDA Cracks Down on E-cigarettes to Curb Teen-vaping ‘Epidemic.” “Products that were on the market as of August 2016, including Juul, can stay on shelves.”

Vaping is generally done with a portable pen or mod, where most gadgets require cartridges or tanks filled with vape juice for nicotine consumption, or with oils and wax for marijuana consumption.

“I use my mod interchangeably with a vape tank and wax cartridges,” a student, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Nicotine is not the only substance being vaporized—marijuana is too. Vaping cannabinoids (THC and CBD) in wax pens produce less of a smell and still delivers the naturally occurring chemical compounds into lungs without the combustion of plant material.

Some teens prefer pens for smoking, but not to avoid chemicals found in weed, such as tobacco.

“Wax pens produce less smell, are easy to conceal and are easier to hit,” junior Isabela Young said.

With this convenience comes a downfall, not all companies tell consumers everything present in their pods or cartridges.

Most brands and companies in the marijuana industry produce products with no cutting agents/non-cannabis additives; some companies, however, use questionable methods to create their wax, and some use additives and thinners.

The most common additives present are glycerin and PG. Regardless, health concerns don’t always pose a big risk in teens minds. Teens will continue use their coping methods whether or not chemicals are involved.

¨I don’t really care if chemicals are present, I will continue to use my pen,” junior Kim Nguyen said.

Cutting agents (non-cannabis additives) are commonly avoided in marijuana, and a more natural thinning solution is present.

“Terpenes are believed by many to be harmless flavorings because they are natural products,” Robert Strongin, a study author and professor of organic chemistry at Portland State said in interview with Healthline.

Marijuana plants contain natural terpenes and flavonoids that can be extracted and added to cartridges to naturally derived flavor.
Students who consume these products should research trustworthy brands and check if the companies use naturally derived or chemically made substances to avoid long-term health consequences.