“Look at us,” the board of JUUL may as well be saying. “We are going to sell people vape products to help them quit vaping.”
It is all part of a strategy to overcome the objections from anti-vape campaigners that JUUL is attempting to hook people for life on its products. JUUL’s co-founder and Chief Product Officer James Monsees has announced that the next iteration of its product is going to be designed to help vapers wean themselves away from vaping.
Monsees told an audience at TechCrunch Disrupt: “This is a problem that there’s never been a solution to, but we’re changing the nature of this universe. If a consumer wants to quit our product, they can. We will give them the toolset to do that in the smoothest possible way.”
He was introducing a new ‘connected’ JUUL device that allows the user to track their use and plan to drop it by using a machine learning algorithm. It will be combined with a smartphone app so that “if I drop my Juul in this chair and I walk away, and the next person who comes up is 12 years old, they’re not going to be able to use the product.” Well, unless it was left next to the phone.
This is all part of the “youth prevention feature set”, product development being driven by the hysteria mounting in the States. Judy Gibson is the CEO of The International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO). Yesterday, she told the GTNF18 audience: "If you think Juul-magedon was bad, it's going to get a lot worse!"
Unfortunately for JUUL, simply telling the truth is not enough.
Ashley Gould, the chief administrative officer for Juul Labs said: “This is not a product for youth. It's a product for adult smokers. No usage of our product by youth is acceptable to us. It was not designed to look like a USB device. It was not designed to be hid by kids. This is a product that was designed by smokers for adult smokers, and that is the design ethos of the product."
American policy makers aren’t listening – not even The Truth Initiative (TTI).
Despite TTI recently pointing out the “young adult smoking rate drops to 10%”, it isn’t able or willing to see why.
Rather than attribute the success to the introduction and growth of vaping, TTI would rather assume the success is all down to bodies such as themselves: “The youth smoking rate has also dropped to historic lows. Now, 5.4 percent of American teens smoke. This decline underscores the importance of proven public health strategies, including well-funded and well-executed public education campaigns, like Truth®.”
Dr Atelier Danko, Former President of the Australian New Nicotine Alliance, pointed out: “Incredible situation in the US. JUUL epidemic is apparently a gateway to smoking for young people yet somehow smoking is in free-fall. It must be all the other tobacco control measures…”
Charles Gardner, Director of the Smokefree Foundation, agrees: “Perhaps we should question the motives and scientific credentials of anyone who has ever promoted the gateway effect hypothesis as an accepted fact. Now that the real world has weighed in on their arguments. I'm just saying.”
The trouble for JUUL is that by responding to allegations that they market products to kids, and to develop technology that apparently combats this, it simply lends validity to the initial ludicrous claims – thereby encouraging the fervent anti-vape collective to push even harder.
While it is fighting on the home front, hostilities have now opened up abroad. JUUL is going through the courts in Israel in order to challenge the flat ban on its products being imported or sold.
Then there is the issue of clones.
JUUL has filed trademark claims against 30 entities based in China who are listing “JUUL” products on auction sites. An American court has ruled in favour of a temporary restraining order and instructed that the PayPal accounts of those involved are frozen.
Gerald Masoudi, Chief Legal Officer, said: “Counterfeit products pose significant risk to the public, and we are taking swift action to stop those who are selling fake Juul products without age verification. We will do everything in our power to restrict counterfeiters from flooding the market with fake product to protect consumers and combat underage use.”
“It’s not our product these kids might be using,” Masoudi might have said. “They’re buying all this fake stuff. Look, we are being responsible by going after them.”
Again, does this demonstrate a proactive company or one that is reactively legitimising false concerns? Given the real threat presented by the FDA of removing flavoured eliquids from sale in the USA, it’s vital that JUUL begins to act in the interest of the wider vaping community as well as the protection of its market share.
One thing that is certain, nothing will ever be good enough for the more fervent anti-vaping zealots, no matter what steps JUUL takes.