Shortly after Juul’s launch in 2015, its executives knew that teens were swarming to the e-cigarette, according to a former manager. Even though the blend of nicotine in the product was so potent that a kill switch was devised by engineers to harness the dosage, the company did not act to curtail teen usage, and the kill switch idea was nixed.
The Addictive Power of Juul
According to Reuters, Juul’s manufacturer was concerned about consumers’ rejection of earlier e-cigarettes because the device didn’t deliver enough nicotine and had a harsh taste. The developers of Juul then examined old research and patents from tobacco companies and found that adding organic acids could help give nicotine a combination of smooth taste coupled with a potent dose of nicotine.
Former Juul employees told sources that these new formulations of liquid nicotine concocted by Juul were tested by company workers themselves and even on strangers taking smoke breaks outdoors. One problem that surfaced, however, was that the extreme amount of nicotine being delivered by Juul was so high that it made some users’ hands shake and made some vomit.
The formula was so successful at putting nicotine in the bloodstream that it became necessary for Juul’s engineers to look for a way to throttle the nicotine delivery, so users wouldn’t ingest too much of the drug all at once. In 2014, the founders of Juul developed methods to alert users or to disable the vaping device if the nicotine dosage reached a certain threshold. A patent was requested for the methods.
Unlike cigarettes, Juul devices never burn out. This poses a problem concerning the excessive ingestion of nicotine. Among the ideas tossed around by Juul was a method to shut down the vaping device for 30 minutes after a certain amount of puffs to limit nicotine intake. This revelation was divulged recently by a former Juul scientist, Chenyue Xing, who helped patent the company’s liquid-nicotine formula. “You hope that they get what they want, and they stop,” said Xing. “We didn’t want to introduce a new product with a stronger addictive power.”
However, time proved that Juul’s manufacturer never released an e-cigarette that limited the intake of nicotine. Xing was not directly involved with engineering the device. She is unsure why no dosage-control feature was used.
Teen Vaping Addiction
Juul is front and center in a controversy sweeping the country concerning the safety of its products and copycats on the market. Juul’s rising sales have closely tracked with the astronomical rise in teen nicotine use, causing criticism against Juul and scrutiny from regulatory bodies. Attorneys general from several states, along with health advocates and congressional investigators, are focusing on whether Juul wrongly targeted teenagers through marketing strategies and dessert-type flavorings like mango and crème brulee.
According to a Reuters investigation, company insiders were discussing concerns early on over the product’s addictiveness and potency. The formula of “nicotine salts” causes this e-cigarette to be so addictive and has gained Juul a prized spot among teens and new users who likely would never have started smoking regular cigarettes. This conjecture is based upon information obtained from at least a dozen tobacco researchers, doctors, and a careful review of Juul patents done by Reuters, along with nicotine chemistry research. Juul devices are more efficient at delivering the drug than a cigarette is, based upon academic research into the nicotine formula and the manufacturer’s own patent documents.
Reuters asked the company for some answers. In a written response, Juul explained that its intention was never to attract underage customers. The manufacturer admitted that it must “earn back the trust of regulators, policymakers, key stakeholders and society at large” in view of the skyrocketing “unacceptable” level of vaping youth.
There was no comment from Juul when questioned about its choice to forego the installation of features that would limit the amount of nicotine intake. The company said its products are designed to mimic the experience derived from smoking cigarettes because that is the precise way to attract smokers to purchase Juul products. The company says Juul users are far more successful at stopping smoking than individuals who used earlier e-cigarettes.
Getting Shelf Space Through the Power of Addiction
Juul rarely ever mentioned nicotine in the early days of its consumer marketing that used young, hip models and presented the vaping device as a stylish alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, according to the former head of sales and distribution for Juul from 2014 to early 2016 on the East Coast, Vincent Latronica, the company’s sales force used the vaping device’s addictive power as a means to get shelf space from reluctant retailers. Store owners were shown charts depicting how the device sends nicotine into the bloodstream just as efficiently as a regular cigarette.
According to Latronica, this point became central in helping the young company overcome initial skepticism that retailers had, and it helped Juul break into sales spots that were long dominated by tobacco companies. “Everyone wanted it,” Latronica said. Juul would not answer Reuters’ questions asking why the manufacturer chose to emphasize the addictive aspects of its product to retailers, yet downplay them when advertising to consumers.
Juul Knew Teenagers Were a Profitable Segment
Immediately after Juul appeared on the market in 2015, calls from teens flooded the manufacturer’s phone lines asking where the vaping device and disposable cartridge-like nicotine “pods” could be purchased. Per a former manager requesting anonymity, this response from teenagers triggered an awareness within the company that its product has a huge appeal to young people.
This manager also disclosed that the immediate appeal of Juul to teens prompted a debate within the company. Founder James Monsees, CEO and director then, wanted action immediately to curb sales to youth. However, other company executives gave the counter-argument that there was no blame on Juul’s part for the wide appeal to teens, because no intentional advertising had been aimed at young people.
Other early investors expressed the same view, per the former manager speaking anonymously. One such director was Hoyoung Huh, a healthcare entrepreneur. “Clearly, people internally had an issue with it,” he said, referencing Juul’s sales to teens, “But, a lot of people had no problem with 500 percent year-over-year growth.” Continuing, he shared that the company knew that young consumers were “the most profitable segment in the history of the tobacco industry,” because research readily shows that young people who start using nicotine are usually lifelong addicts.
Youth Nicotine Addiction’s Future
The revelation that Juul’s early knowledge of youth addiction was tabled comes at a time when the manufacturer is facing pressure from regulators. Juul executive, CEO Kevin Burns, recently resigned on the heels of an outbreak of lung illnesses and deaths being tied to vaping; plus the FDA warnings about unauthorized health claims; as well as a proposed ban by the Trump administration on all flavored e-cigarettes that would only leave those mimicking actual tobacco. In response to the proposed ban, Juul has just recently pulled online sales of fruit, mango, and mint flavors in the United States. These products were earlier pulled from retail stores in the country. However, these controversial flavors are still being marketed and sold in other countries globally.
After experiencing a long decline in teen cigarette use, the sudden resurgence of nicotine addiction through e-cigarettes deeply concerns doctors, researchers and scientists. Indications exist that the adolescent brain is exposed to serious risks from nicotine addiction, now being fed by such vaping products as Juul.
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- Chris Kirkham. “Juul disregarded early evidence it was hooking teens”, Reuters. Accessed November 6, 2019.