Juul Emboldened After Rough 2018
Juul is striking back after spending much of 2018 absorbing punishment. It may seem that Juul went on the offensive after a series of new FDA e-cig regulations and increased media scrutiny. But the reality is that they had already started to ramp up their public relations, legal and lobbying efforts early last year. Marlboro maker Altria purchased a 35 percent stake in Juul in December, and this seems to have emboldened to Juul to take even more aggressive steps to reshape their public perception.
New Vaping Studies Make Case for E-Cigs
At the end of January, Juul released a study on the role e-juice flavors play in smoking cessation. Juul found, not surprisingly, that adult smokers really like flavored e-cig flavors. Gone are the days when Juul would immediately capitulate and change the name of a popular flavor from Crème Brule e-juice to Crème. All because uncompromising foes of e-cigarettes had the bizarre notion that the decadent French dessert holds a special allure over minors, all of whom were born a full decade after crème brulée was last trendy. Nonsensical zombie vaping myths are a huge part of the e-cig landscape, but the strange attacks on the name "crème brulée" are in a league of their own. Juul’s flavor survey was soon overshadowed by a monumental study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). To the dismay of regulators, who had backed the wrong horse for years, vaping crushed nicotine replacement as a smoking cessation tool. In the NEJM study, the device used was a classic cartomizer design with a 650mAh battery and 1.4 ohm resistance coil. Not exactly a Juul, but a signal victory for the vaping industry.
Juul Releases Tobacco Cancer Biomarker Study
Juul is back touting the benefits of their product again this week. In a press release, Juul published the results of a clinical trial that measured biomarkers of exposure (BOE) between adult smokers who abstained from smoking from 5 days, adults who actively smoke and adult Juul users. The short-term biomarkers selected were NNN, NNAL, 3-HPMA, MHBMA, S-PMA, HMPMA, CEMA, 1-OHP, and COHb. These biomarkers are recognized as contributing to tobacco related cancers and linked to the use of combustible cigarettes. The study was sponsored by Juul and conducted by Celerion, Inc., an independent research laboratory. A total of 90 adult smokers were involved in the 5 day, in-patient study. Subjects were required to abstain from smoking for 12 hours before the beginning of the study, and their baseline of tobacco biomarkers was established through urine and blood analysis. At the end of the study, subjects were retested and their biomarkers compared to their earlier results. The 90 participants were divided into 6 groups of 15 adult smokers. Four of the groups used a Juul nicotine salt pod system, with each group assigned a specific flavor. The flavors Juul chose for the study were Virginia Tobacco, Mint, Mango, and Crème. The nicotine strength used was 5 percent. The other two groups of 15 consisted of smokers and individuals who were denied access to nicotine products. At the end of the five day study, the group that abstained from nicotine and the Juul group had nearly identical tobacco related biomarkers. As an aggregate, the Juul group had an 85 percent reduction in cancer related biomarkers in their urine compared to 85.3 percent for the abstinence group. These same biomarkers increased 14.4 percent in the smoking group. Juul CEO Kevin Burns presented these results at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco 2019 conference.
“The equivalent reductions in these specific cigarette-related biomarkers across the groups who abstained from smoking and those who used JUUL products reaffirms the role vapor products can have for the adult smoker. Although addictive, nicotine is not directly responsible for the cancers that are commonly associated with cigarette use.”
Juul Surveys Pod Users
Juul also released self-reported data that shifted blame for the teen vaping epidemic squarely onto the shoulders of Juul compatible pods manufacturers. The FDA is still angry over perceived double dealing by Juul and Altria, and is likely to ignore the results of this survey. According to the survey respondents, “Self-reported ever-users of a JUUL vaporizer were more likely to have reported having initiated use of a JUUL vaporizer with a pod flavor not manufactured by JUUL Labs (54.0%) than with a pod flavor manufactured by JUUL Labs (31.2%).” Current users were as likely to have used a pod manufactured by Juul as by one of the compatible pod manufacturers. Juul’s market share has shrunk in the last 3 months, but considering they control over 75 percent of the vaping market, these results strain credulity. The message behind this study is clear. First time vapers are using our unlicensed Juul compatible products and we are performing our due diligence.
Bluetooth Technology Can Restrict Teen Use AND Compatible Pods
The survey may be laying the ground work for Juul’s next generation of Bluetooth enabled device. Juul has argued that Smartphone enabled Bluetooth technology in a pod device can be used to reduce teen vaping. This advance would require FDA approval, but certainly could prove to be an effective means of curtailing vaping by minors. The technology could just as easily be used to prevent unlicensed but compatible pods from working with a registered Juul device. Internet of things technology is mature. All Juul would need to do is require that all Bluetooth Juul devices and pods be registered to a single cellphone through an app. Such a requirement could be easily defended as part of a grand strategy to combat underage vaping. A legal-age Juul user would have to verify their age and all Juul purchases. Unauthorized resellers and compatible pods would be cut off. Use would be restricted at the point of use, the device would only fire when within range of the cellphone. Biometrics like finger prints and facial recognition could eventually play a role as well. Apart from squeezing out rivals, the granularity and depth of data generated by this device would be mind-boggling. By framing the data mining and tracking as beneficial features, like a Fitbit app for vaping and nicotine cessation, in theory users would go along with this intrusive approach to vaping. Keurig used a cruder version of this technology on their Keurig 2.0 coffee maker. It was not well-received and remains a target of litigation by rival coffee pod manufacturers. Apart from being discrete, one of the big selling points of Juul devices is the simplicity of use. Adding a layer software that restricts use could potentially upend the apple cart. There is a simpler approach to restricting teen access using Bluetooth technology. Wireless networks could be set up at schools to block any Bluetooth enabled Juul within range from working. Also known as geofencing, a Juul sized Farraday pouch could thwart this system and the rich vein of user data generated by a Smartphone app would remain untapped.