Juul users are starting to say goodbye to their favorite vaporizer

by Kerry G. Alvarez

After about 25 years of smoking cigarettes, Tim Marchman wanted to quit. And yet he didn’t want to become what he calls “a vape guy,” the kind of person who spends hours in specialty stores choosing from dozens of electronic nicotine delivery devices, many of them quite elaborate. So he opted for what seemed to him the simplest option, Juul, a brand that for a while was practically synonymous with vaping.

Juul users are starting to say goodbye to their favorite vaporizer

“Juul is the standard,” Mr. Marchman, an editor at Vice Media’s technology and science site Motherboard, said in an interview. “It just plugs and plays.”

Unlike some other e-cigarette brands, Juul was also widely available. “In gas stations in the middle of nowhere, they have it,” Mr. Marchman said.

That will probably change.

This week, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Juul Labs to stop selling its devices in the United States, citing insufficient and conflicting data from the company about potentially harmful chemicals that could leak from Juul’s e-liquid pods.

Like other converts, Mr. Marchman says he has no intention of returning to tobacco after being unable to get his favorite brand of e-cigarette. Still, he wonders how the FDA order will affect his habit.

“If I leave the country, do I have to take my vape juice with me?” said Mr. Marchman, who is 43 and lives in Philadelphia. “Where do I get it? I hardly know where to get it in Philadelphia.”

Juul’s ruling followed years of criticism over potential adverse health effects from the company’s products and how it appealed to teens with a range of sweet flavors, including mango, crème brûlée, and mint, as marketing campaigns aimed at youth.

Juul Labs’ predecessor company was founded in 2007 by James Monsees and Adam Bowen, a couple of entrepreneurs who came up with an alternative to tobacco during a smoking break as graduate students at Stanford University. When Juuls was first sold in 2015, the brand boomed in popularity, partly thanks to a vibrant ad campaign in which young, attractive men and women showed smiling, laughing, and striking poses under the word ‘Vaporized’.

By 2018, Juul had become so popular that the brand name became a verb, with teens covertly “juking” in high school classrooms and hallways. That same year, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, agreed to pay $13 billion for a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs.

Then came a spate of lawsuits filed by prosecutors accusing the company of encouraging nicotine addiction among teens through its ad campaigns. Juul paid tens of millions to settle the cases in 2019 and 2021. The company’s rise and fall, from Silicon Valley success story to public health pariah, was chronicled in The New York Times 2021 documentary “Move Fast and Vape Things.”

Although Juul lost business after curtailing its advertising after the lawsuits, it remained one of the most visible and popular e-cigarette brands. The news of the ban was disturbing for Matthew Luther, 31, who lives in Detroit and repairs leather goods.

“I will miss the Juuls,” said the 31-year-old Luther. “I think they were aesthetically better. They are easy to throw in your pocket and refillable.”

As others interviewed for this article, he said he liked the simple design of the Juul device, which resembles a flash drive. “The ban seems retarded to me,” he said.

The FDA ruling came just as Mr. Luther increased his use of Juul products. “I think it’s just life, stress, and I’ve been trying to quit smoking cigarettes,” he said.

Although Juul’s sales have fallen recently, especially among teens who have turned to competitors like Puff Bar, the company once held 75 percent of the market. So for many, the brand had become synonymous with vaping, as Kleenex is for tissues.

“When I think of e-cigs, I think of Juul,” says Jenny Mathison, who started using Juul products in 2018. The only nicotine alternative she’d found allowed her to kick the Marlboro habit she’d picked up in high school. She added.

Ms. Mathison, 54, who lives in Rancho Mirage, California, and is a full-time caregiver to her disabled husband, said she would likely switch to Vuse, a competing brand.

Other Juul users buy and dock the pods. (Juul has asked a federal appeals court to block the FDA’s order temporarily. Whether the company’s products will remain available is yet to be decided.)

For Philadelphia editor, Mr. Marchman, the FDA’s move could lead to him becoming the type he has long feared becoming – a vape man.

“I’ll end up with some weird vaping setup that I don’t quite understand,” said Mr. Marchman. “I have to pick a device and try different juices. It becomes a whole.”

Sandra E. Garcia contributed reporting.

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