By Conor White and Kate Gill
E-cigarette maker Juul announced new concessions to limit rampant teen vaping on Tuesday ー including pulling certain products from stores and abandoning social media feeds ー in the face of increasing pressure from the FDA and anti-smoking groups.
In recent months, Juul has come under intense scrutiny over the skyrocketing number of young vapers. The FDA raided the company's San Francisco headquarters last month, seizing documents about its marketing and sales tactics.
The company's "action plan" announced Tuesday includes solutions like yanking flavors that might appeal to teens ー mango, fruit, and creme ー from the 90,000-plus retail stores where its products are sold. From now on, those flavors will only be sold on the company's website, where it is will also impose age-verification.
As part of its broader campaign, Juul will also abandon its social media pages and monitor third-party accounts that may target teens or glamorize e-cigarettes. Also on the company's agenda: strengthening "retail compliance," limiting "bulk shipments," and halting "unauthorized online sales."
"We are implementing this plan starting today. We will be a transparent, engaged, and committed partner in this effort with FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations," said the company's CEO, Kevin Burns in a message on Juul's website.
Teen vaping has risen by 77 percent in the past year, according to FDA data, and critics like the anti-smoking Truth Initiative said Juul's savvy marketing and sales tactics ー which attracted young people en masseー have contributed to that increase.
But data aside, the issue is more complex than it may appear ー largely because vaping has allowed many adult addicts to curb their smoking habits.
"A lot of smokers who have quit and moved to vaping devices have credited those things with their ability to quit cigarettes and stay away from them," explained Amanda Mull, a staff writer at The Atlantic.
Now, The Federal Drug Administration is faced with the challenge of keeping a product away from teenagers ー while simultaneously encouraging it among adults who may benefit.
Mull noted banning flavored pods might discourage a smoker from quitting.
Before its latest action, Juul had started to position itself as a alternative for cigarette smokers, but Mull said the company would also need to restrict its use of certain terminology.
"What vape manufacturers really want to avoid is telling people they're cessation devices," she said.
Juul has a fine line to walk.
"Once they start marketing themselves as cessation devices, the grounds of their FDA regulation changes, and they're medical devices, which opens them up to a much more stringent level of FDA testing," Mull added.