Crowned jewel of e-cigarette industry halts flavor sales

JUUL suspends popular pod flavors after pressure from FDA

E-cigarette company JUUL, whose product has become ubiquitous on college campuses, is phasing out several of its flavors and imposing harsher age restrictions in an effort to reduce the amount of underaged consumers.

Following announcements from the Food and Drug Administration, the company stopped accepting retail orders for some of their flavored nicotine pods.

JUUL will stop selling mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pod flavors in stores. These flavors will still be available on JUUL's website, where the company is adding additional age verification methods. The company said it will only accept retail orders for recalled flavors again if the stores will comply with a 21 and over distribution system. 

While young adults and medical professionals agree that using the devices can cause adverse health effects, they disagree on how effective the move will be in decreasing usage within the underaged population.

"It’s not like people are going to use a JUUL because it tastes like mango, they’re doing it for the nicotine," said Derek Lerman, a freshman nursing student at ASU. 

Massimo Garcia, a senior at Peoria High School who said e-cigarette and vape use gained popularity among his peers with the rise of the JUUL, also doubted the move's effectiveness.

“I think pulling some of the flavors could deter people from using. There are some people who have one flavor and stick to it," Garcia said. "I don’t think it’ll stop the people who are already using, but it might deter a few."

But others said the company's decision addresses some of the health concerns associated with the devices.

ASU Medical Director Stefanie Schroeder said that though vapes and e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, people should question the health risks that come with the devices. 

"We still don't know enough about it. Those who are switching from combustable cigarettes are making a step in the right direction, but nobody known if vapes are as harmless as they claim to be. Considering the respiratory problems we see at the health center, I tend to think they're not," Schroeder said.  

This limit on sales follows a push from the FDA to prove that the company is not advertising to an underaged market. The FDA gave the company, as well as other major manufacturers, 60 days to submit plans to address youth access and use in September. 

Read more: The FDA aims to clear the air around vaping and e-cigarettes

In addition to altering their sales methods of certain flavors, JUUL is changing the way they use social media. The company is shutting down its Facebook and Instagram accounts, and keeping its Twitter for non-promotional content. However, JUUL is maintaining its YouTube account, which has already been age-restricted to viewers 21-years-old and older. 

Karen Culver, manager of membership marketing and development at ASU, said social media can be very telling in what market a company is catering to. 

"The accounts that are primarily used by kids should definitely be pulled, and having some of those accounts in the first place could mean they might have been targeting those younger age groups," Culver said.

A big part of marketing is objectively tracking business activities to see what gets results, something the FDA has done by looking into the age groups of e-cigarette and vape consumers, she said.

As a business, JUUL was founded by two former smokers looking for a better alternative to smoking. 

Currently selling its products in more than 90,000 retail stores, JUUL does not plan to indefinitely limit its pod flavors to its website. 

JaNae Jackman, a customer service representative at Circle K, said the typical person who comes in looking to buy a JUUL or pods is far younger than 21. 

She also said the most common pod flavors were mint and mango. While the mango flavor is transitioning to exclusively online sales, mint will still be sold in stores. 

“It’s all young people — they’re all born in the 90s or younger," Jackman said. "It’s sad because the kids who I don’t think would be smoking are using JUUL."

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