Juul Strikes Back With Study on E-Juice Flavors
Confronting the Fruit Flavor Fallacy
The myth that sweet flavors were created in order to hook minors is a zombie vaping myth and refuses to die. No matter how many times it has been debunked, this fruit flavor fallacy remains an existential threat to the e-cig industry. It has been tenuously linked to the teen vaping epidemic by extremists and drives their proposed e-cig flavor bans.
The vape pod giant Juul is finally pushing back against this false narrative. Last week they released a pair of studies which demonstrated how sweet flavors can help adults successfully transition from combustible cigarettes to electronic alternatives.
These studies add to the existing evidence, which shows that the majority of adult vapers prefer fruit e-juice and sweeter flavor combinations. A detailed study by Dr. Farsalino breaks down the preference of adult vapers in great detail. For the heaviest smokers, an authentic tobacco e-juice can be one of life’s great pleasures but the popularity of sweet flavors e-juice flavors with adults is an established fact. It is no surprise that this trend is also true in the trendy nicotine salt e-juice and vape pod market.
Juul Says Flavors Help Smokers Switch from Cigarettes
Juul has been quick to retreat on the flavor issue in the past, but it looks like they are ready to make a stand. After an infusion of almost $13 billion from Marlboro maker Altria and with control of over 70 percent of the vaping market, Juul certainly has plenty of skin in the game.
The studies Juul released last week were conducted by the UK based Centre for Substance Abuse Research. Using data obtained in comprehensive surveys, the results provide insight into the role that flavors play in switching adults off of combustible cigarettes.
The first survey examined retail purchasers of Juul vape pod starter kits. Researchers found that after 90 days of Juul use, adult smokers who used primarily Mint or Mango had the highest rate of transition to exclusively electronic cigarettes.
The numbers are actually impressive. Of the 4,260 respondents who completed a follow-up assessment after 90 days, 58 percent of Mango users and 61 percent of Mint users had fully switched from cigarettes for at least the last 30 days. Forty percent of Menthol and 34 percent of Classic Tobacco made the complete switch to e-cigs in the same timeframe.
This isn’t surprising. In his study of flavor preferences, Dr. Farsalino found that the heaviest smokers prefer tobacco and menthol flavors. A transition rate of 18 to 40 percent is actually quite high for that cohort.
The second survey gathered information from the 5,011 customers who responded to an eCommerce survey. This survey examined the primary flavor preferences of Juul pod purchasers who had given up combustible cigarettes entirely for at least the last 30 days.
The discrepancy in flavors was not quite as great, but Mango and Mint once again outperformed tobacco.
Research Supports Vaping
The lower rate of transition among menthol and tobacco Juul pod users can be explained away by the fact that these are generally the heaviest smokers. But it is still worth putting those numbers into perspective. Tobaccofree.org study found that prescription Zyban has a success rate of 30 percent and nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gum and patches had success rates ranging from 15 to 23 percent.
The Tobacco.org numbers cover an entire calendar year, so it is possible that the e-cig success rate would be even higher. Of course, e-cigs cannot be promoted as a cessation tool in the US and it will remain an apples and oranges comparison until this is addressed.
Juul was no doubt pleased with the results of these studies. Dr. David B. Abrams, a professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at NYU College of Global Public Health said, “These results add to a growing body of scientific studies confirming what makes common sense. Smokers who find a satisfying alternative to cigarettes are more likely to switch if their vape device helps to forget the taste and smell of their cigarettes.”
David Sweanor of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa added, “Flavors are an essential element of encouraging switching to vaping, and we need regulations that focus on a risk-benefit analysis rather than inadvertently perpetuating the cigarette epidemic.”
This common sense perspective mirrors the arguments made by Iowa Attorney General Thomas Miller. The Iowa AG questioned the new e-cig regulations in a letter the FDA. A dyed in the wool opponent of smoking, he won the state of Iowa millions in a lawsuit against big tobacco.
Is Juul Done Appeasing Critics?
It is interesting to note the changes that have occurred since Marlboro maker Altria purchased a 35 percent stake in Juul. Last year, Juul rolled over and changed the name of their Crème Brulee flavor pod to Crème due to concerns that a popular, French-inspired 1990s dessert was inordinately appealing to minors.
This bizarre assertion is undermined by the fact that Crème Brulee as a brand name is shared with a line of upscale Laura Mercier skin care products, available at such teen-friendly haunts as Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales. Are high school students really being lured by a name which evokes the decadent pleasures of a dessert that peaked in popularity before they were born?
Late last fall, a series of new FDA regulations on e-cigs buffeted the entire industry. They were devised in large part to punish Juul for their nic salt pod design and its suspected role in the teen vaping epidemic. A gang of six lawmakers in the golden state are attempting to take matters a step further and have proposed virtual vaping prohibition in California.
Juul’s response to the pressure was to stop accepting retail orders for non-tobacco/menthol and mint flavors. The popular flavors are still available on their eCommerce page but cannot be purchased in bulk. This move was made before the Altria purchase and it will be interesting to see if they revisit this decision. Juul increased their lobbying efforts and their PR budget before the Altria purchase. Now they are allied with a partner who is known for getting their way, despite being viewed with great skepticism by millions.
FDA Angry at Altria-Juul Double Cross
The FDA is furious about the Altria-Juul alliance. The Marlboro maker had sworn off developing their own nic salt pod system and Juul was in theory moving away from convenience store and gas station sales. Now Juul is teaming with Altria, a company with a tremendous amount of premium shelf space in brick and mortar locations. They hope prominent retail space, Altria’s efficient logistical network and a proven ability to deal with regulators will be enough to create a Juul monopoly.
The FDA’s new regulations were predicated in part on the assumption that gas stations and convenience stores cannot age verify properly. But an FDA audit conducted over the summer found that they were 96 percent compliant. Local authorities are quick to punish businesses that sell to minors. A Chicago crackdown on e-juice sellers is just one recent example of how much scrutiny these businesses operate under.
Vaping Critics Emboldened
The Altria-Juul purchase has also breathed new life into the myth that e-cigs are a mere supplement to cigarette smoking. It is now easier for vaping critics to claim that e-cigs are merely a source of nicotine to be used when cigarettes are not available. Critics do not see the inclusion of information about Juul’s nicotine salt pods in Marlboro cigarette packs as a feature that furthers public health, but instead view them as a transparent marketing ploy. Teaming with a company that is viewed as an arch-villain by much of the population has its drawbacks.
Before buying into Juul, Altria decided to dump their existing e-cig brands MarkTen and Green Smoke and throw in their lot with Juul. At Vapor4Life, we know the benefits of the classic e-cig design and will continue to offer MarkTen alternatives and GreenSmoke equivalent flavors and devices. The authentic experience of the classic e-cigarette is not matched by pods or mods.
Flavor prohibition remains an enormous threat to the viability vaping industry. Juul’s research demonstrated something that should be evident to any casual observer of vaping trends: sweet flavors are available because adults buy them. The teen vaping epidemic remains a serious issue. Until it is resolved or thoroughly addressed, it will hang over the head of the vaping industry like the Sword of Damocles. Unless another risky behavior by minors finally pushes Juul out of the headlines.