The company has capitulated in the face of growing hysteria rather than sticking fast to evidence and facts. It has announced it is withdrawing most of its flavoured products from retail stores and will discontinue with any social media promotions. But, where it twists the knife in the back of the vaping industry, is when it legitimises bogus teen “epidemic” claims.
Juul’s announcement preceded the FDA moves to ban products from convenience stores and petrol stations, but echoed the same reasons as its justification.
The company wrote: “We will now make Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber available only on JUUL.com, where we are adding additional age-verification measures to an already industry-leading online sales system that is restricted to people 21+ and utilizes third party verification.”
Juul says it is going to carry out 2,000 secret shopper visits to retailers and “will permanently cut off all sales to retail stores with multiple violations.” Plus, it is going to be “eliminating our own social media accounts and continuing to monitor and remove inappropriate material from third-party accounts.”
But then CEO Kevin Burns said in a video: “An unintended, serious problem has developed: underage usage of our product. As the industry leader, we must lead the category in decreasing underage use. Youth usage is a serious problem and we are committed to solving it.”
Moreover, in an interview, Burns said: “We launched flavors like Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber as effective tools to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes, and we do not sell flavors like Gummy Bear or Cotton Candy, which are clearly targeted to kids.”
American Vaping Association’s Gregory Conley commented: “Saying we are disappointed in Juul's decision to fold on flavours would imply that we actually thought they had a backbone and would fight for their adult customers.”
"With massive private investments and big prospects for international expansion, Juul should not have an issue surviving this hit to their revenue. That does not mean this was a smart move though. Waving the white flag of surrender in their home market in a desperate attempt to win over their enemies will only serve to set a terrible precedent that will come back to haunt them as they bring JUUL to new countries."
Conley could well be correct as Sainsbury’s (recently having listed Juul pods) immediately came under questioning from American reporters, demanding to know if the supermarket chain planned on also removing Mango and Royal Crème from its stores.
This follows on from Altria’s strategic capitulation in discontinuing most of its flavoured products and removing some brands from sale.
Juul’s actions have sparked a reaction on this side of the Atlantic too. In our coverage of questions in the House of Lords, we report on Lord Vaux pushing the government to act on flavours.
The Times quotes Martin McKee saying: “These flavourings are clearly designed to attract kids. They are like alcopops and should be banned.”
It also quotes Thomas Ferkol stating: “I have heard it described as ‘inhaling candy’. It is another tool for getting young people addicted to nicotine and creating a new generation of addicts.”
Meanwhile, The Lancashire Telegraph uses Juul’s statement to engineer a conflict between the company and the manufacturers of Dinner Lady eliquids.
It’s difficult to see Juul’s announcement as anything other that exceptionally unhelpful to the cause of harm reduction. It should be remembered that flavours are essential to smokers being able to successfully switch from tobacco cigarettes. As Public Health England's Martin Cockrell says: “Our report found no evidence so far to support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people. UK surveys show that young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes, but regular use is rare and confined almost entirely to those who already smoke. Meanwhile, smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to decline."