Last Friday, the FDA made a surprise visit to Juul Labs headquarters in California, multiple outlets report. The agency seized over one thousand documents. They were interested in examining the pen vape company’s marketing processes in the wake of ‘epidemic’ teen use.
The FDA’s concern stems largely from what the agency considers to be ‘kid-friendly’ flavors of Juul’s proprietary nicotine cartridges (Juulpods). Flavors like mango and creme brulee have authorities worried that the company’s pen vapes appeal too much to the youth market.
Connecting the Dots
Brian King of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told NBC News he can see exactly what Juul is doing. “You have a heavily promoted product, particularly in social media, that’s available in kid-friendly flavors such as mango, crème brulee and fruit medley, and you also have high levels of nicotine in these products,” King said.
He also noted the high concentration of nicotine in Juulpods, and the company’s use of nicotine salts for a smoother, easier ‘hit’ on the device.
“And so these nicotine salts use that lower pH. And it makes it easier to go down, and that’s particularly concerning when you’re talking about youth…those very high rates of nicotine in Juul are going to go down a lot easier,” he told NBC News.
Finally, King brought the pieces all together. “Advertising can bring the horse to water. The flavors will get them to drink. And the nicotine will keep them coming back for more,” he warned.
A Change of Heart
Originally, the FDA gave vape manufacturers until 2022 to submit relevant documentation for MRTP (Modified Risk Tobacco Product) applications. Seeing the number of users over the 2 million mark in 2017, however, had commissioner Scott Gottlieb change their decree earlier this year.
As of last month, the FDA gave manufacturers just 60 days to provide all the documentation they could to prove they were actively working to combat the youth trend. Pen vape companies, like Juul and Vuse, were required to scramble to produce evidence to the contrary of current vape statistics among the 13-18 years old age group.
Juul Labs actively uses social media channels, like Instagram, to produce marketing content and raise brand awareness. Given the typical demographics of heavy social media users, it appears to FDA does not believe the company’s claims to be for adult smokers looking to make the switch. Only recently did Juul switch from using models in ads, to using former smokers.
Companies and e-cigarette proponents say that the sole purpose of e-cigs is to help smokers quit using a healthier alternative. Federal authorities do not believe those claims. The CDC and the FDA have each announced their stances. They argue no conclusive evidence yet exists to prove what the vape industry and advocates claim. Until it does, the ‘epidemic’ problem of teens vaping must be dealt with swiftly and judiciously.
Juul Labs is the most popular e-cigarette manufacturer on the US market. The pen vape manufacturer split from its parent, cannabis vape manufacturer Pax Labs, in 2017. Since, their products have skyrocketed to take control of more than 70% of the e-cigarette market.
Last Friday’s surprise visit and seizure of corporate documents marks another stage in the ongoing FDA crackdowns of previously lax regulations on the e-cigarette market. Juul executives have said they are cooperating with the agency’s efforts. The company also announced earlier this year a pledge of $30 million towards a youth education program about the dangers of nicotine.
“The meetings last week with FDA gave us the opportunity to provide information about our business from our marketing practices to our industry-leading online age-verification protocols to our youth prevention efforts,” the company’s CEO, Kevin Burns, released in a press statement.
Burns called the meeting a “constructive and transparent dialogue.”
“We’ve now released over 50,000 pages of documents to the FDA since April that support our public statements.”