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Wild About JUUL

JUUL Labs is generating plenty of stories as it becomes a global player, but still leaves vapers wondering if it will become a selfish giant or a devoted friend

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Journalists, especially those in the States, pick up their pens, pencils and poison when the name JUUL is associated to a story. While wanting to be seen as earnest, many are questioning the actions as the company fights to secure its future and extend its reach. But then, it has been said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”.

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it”

San Francisco is the scene of a major battle in the making. If the attacks on flavours and device sales weren’t enough, legislators also moved to prohibit “nicotine companies” from leasing city property.

This month JUUL faced a simple choice: relocate to a state that would value the wealth it generates or escalate the situation in California. Flush with Altria’s $12.8 billion, it announced it was looking to purchase a 29-story building.

“We are currently looking for additional office space in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area,” said spokesperson Josh Raffel. With room for 1,000 staff now, and more space to become available in the future, the building will give the firm five times the capacity it has at present.

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”

In a related move, JUUL hired Chris Gruwell, CEO of New Deal Advisers and reputed heavy-hitting lobbyist. He is one of a number of lobbyists and campaign consultants contracted to demolish San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton’s proposals to close down vaping.

One of the consultants commented: “They’re getting loaded, locked and ready to go.”

While this action might be seen as welcome for the city’s vapers, when ‘the big one’ hits there may be quite a few casualties. JUUL filed notice with the San Francisco Department of Elections that it aims to trigger a ballot initiative “to impose additional restrictions on online and brick-and-mortar e-cigarette retailers.”

The method in the madness appears to be that if the company pushed this through it would make Walton’s bans on flavoured liquids and product sales “unenforceable” – but will win it no friends within the independent sector or with those opposed to vaping.

“The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”

The total number of lobbyists JUUL now employs is reported to be in excess of eighty. The American Heart Association, itself no friend of vaping, has attacked the company’s actions: “JUUL is attempting to rehabilitate its public image by posing as a public health advocate while working behind the scenes to weaken or defeat tobacco control proposals and prevent communities from even considering policies to curb tobacco use.”

The plans for San Francisco appears to go beyond weakening or defeating tobacco control proposals as it will weaken market competition at the same time. The New York Times reports that this “army of lobbyists” are mostly sourced from “well-connected firms run by ex-governors, former state lawmakers and big political donors”.

“True friends stab you in the front”

No wonder then that JUUL is finding itself the subject of lawsuits. As mentioned elsewhere this week, North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein has filed a lawsuit, accusing JUUL of “targeting young people and creating an e-cig epidemic among minors.”

Stein added: “JUUL's business practices are not only reckless, they're illegal. And I intend to put a stop to them. We cannot allow another generation of youth to become addicted to nicotine.”

A JUUL spokesperson simply commented: “We share the Attorney General’s concerns about youth vaping, which is why we have been cooperating with his office and why we have taken the most aggressive actions of anyone in the industry to combat youth usage.”

A number of commentators have expressed a belief that the lawsuit is more about Stein’s desire for higher political office than it is about his apparent belief in protecting children from JUULpods.

Over at Northeastern University, Public health advocates have instigated a pile-on with the opening of a class action lawsuit. They want a fat cheque to cover treatment programs for addicted teens in Massachusetts, including: “individual and group nicotine cessation counselling, telephone quit-line support, intensive nicotine cessation support services, and the provision of nicotine cessation medications.”

Mark Gottlieb said: “We don’t have anywhere to send these parents or these kids. There’s a real need for figuring out how to treat them and providing them with treatment.”

So, Mark wants to help vaping teens by prescribing them medication.

“I can resist everything except temptation”

The Republic of Ireland has 830,000 smokers that JUUL hopes will access products through Circle K service stations and specialist Hale vaping shops. It’s the next step in the company’s expansion schedule and it is keen to control the message.

Gareth Smyth, general manager of JUUL Labs Ireland, s been at pains to point out the responsible way the company operates. “We verify that [we only sell to over-18s] in stores through mystery audits, even though it is still not illegal to supply under 18s with e-cigarettes in Ireland,” he said.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple”

Claims of responsible behaviour will continue to hit a wall as those who’d like to see the company fail keep repeating the ‘youth’ mantra.

Having cut its social media campaigns, having a limited flavour range and selling in very plain packaging doesn’t seem to be enough for some. This week, the JAMA Pediatrics journal carries a “study” that claims around 45% of those who following JUUL on Twitter are between 13 and 17 years old.

The findings lie at odds with JUUL’s own investigations using Twitter’s back-end data. It says only around 3.9% of followers fall into that age bracket and it “proactively, manually blocked underage users from following our Twitter feed.”

JUUL strides onwards; its US market share has grown again, the number of markets it operates in continues to expand and the volume of articles written about the company grow exponentially. This is just a snatch of the coverage Juul has received over the last month, putting noses out of joint in and outside of the industry.

“One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards”

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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