2/8/2020: The FDA has banned all flavored vape pods other than tobacco and menthol. Mint Juul would not have made the cut, even if they had not chosen to pull it.
As reported by Market Watch, Juul Mint, the most popular flavor with minors, is being pulled from the market. This follows Juul’s recent decision to stop selling Mango, Fruit Medley, Cream and Cucumber flavored pods. If you are looking for alternatives to these popular Juul flavors, check out the following resource pages.
Juul pulling their popular mint flavor from the market was a decision made in response to an expected federal flavor ban. The fact that Juul Mint is the most popular flavor with high school students is hardly a secret.
You would hardly guess that this is the case, with critics of vaping routinely citing obscure vape juices with names like Unicorn Milk and Tutti Frutti. High VG vape juices with fanciful names play virtually no role in the uptick in teen vaping, but do make an easy target for ill-informed wags. It is unclear who finally tipped off politicians and the news media that Juul Mint is the most popular flavor with minors.
The removal of the popular Mint flavor, which it must be pointed out is tremendously popular with adults as well, will help clear the field for the FDA approved iQOS, a heat not burn device developed by Phillip Morris.
Juul Mint was the most formidable adversary that the iQOS would face at convenience store checkout lines and gas stations. It was a much loved flavor, and delivered a refreshing and cool vaping experience that contrasts sharply with the iQOS, which uses real tobacco.
It will be difficult for Juul's current lineup of tobacco flavor to compete on even terms with the iQOS, their partners flagship cigarette alternative. Marlboro maker Altria purchased 35 percent of Juul last winter.
For a deep-dive into the technological innovations that made the Juul such a vaping game changer, check out our feature "The Truth and Technology Behind Juul and Nic Salts Revealed."
Big Tobacco Behind Flavor Ban?
Altria has long supported a flavor ban. Not only would it eliminate the vape juice flavors most popular with adults but it also forces vape juice manufacturers to compete on Big Tobacco’s terms, tobacco flavor versus tobacco flavor.
The iQOS, relies on tobacco packets which do not combust and delivers a fairly authentic smoking experience without the same levels of ash or tar. The iQOS also has a huge advantage in the court of public opinion. It has not been wrongly conflated with black market THC cartridges for over three months.
This may allow the iQOS to leverage a common consumer inclination to choose "natural" options. The careless reporting of vaping lung disease has no doubt deterred countless smokers from embracing ash and smoke free alternatives. This untapped market is now ripe for the picking.
Juul Mint Flavor Review
The actual Juul Mint flavor was an excellent one, and certainly not only enjoyed by minors. It is a shame that many adult smokers will be left without their product of choice. It was a sweet and cool mint, with an icy throat hit and almost no throat burn thanks to the smooth nic salt formulation. It was available in 2.5 and 5 percent nic strength and sold in 0.7ml vape pods.
If you have any questions about what differentiates nicotine salts from traditional vape juice, a great starting point is our "What is Salt Nic?" guide.
The views expressed in this blog are not exclusively from the point of view of a vaper with an interest in protecting the flavors that adults prefer. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has expressed similar concerns on a number of occasions. We have reviewed Scott Gottlieb's legacy as FDA Commissioner in a previous article.
There is a nearly endless collection of quotes from during his reign and during his recent media tours. It is clear that he has identified closed vape pod systems as the primary driver of the teen vaping epidemic. His concern was always to balance adult access to cigarette alternatives and youth use.
Unfortunately, few vaping critics share his nuanced few and he has left the vaping industry at the tender mercies of politicians and lobbyists eager to score political points at the expense of adult vapers.
At a Tobacco Regulatory Science Program Meeting in June 2018 Gottlieb made the following remarks:
Millions of lives could be saved by moving people away from these most harmful products, while encouraging innovation in potentially less harmful tobacco products for those adults who still seek to use nicotine.Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb
In recent weeks, his criticisms have been directed at a flavor ban that looks a lot like regulatory capture and would only leave Big Tobacco left on the playing field. It seems as if he views Juul as being largely responsible.
Iowa Attorney General Thomas Miller blasted last year's updated vaping regulations. As a long standing enemy of Big Tobacco, he is even more concerned about the national flavor ban and the impact it will have on rural and marginalized residents in his state.
As reported in the Des Moines Register, AG Miller argues that banning commercial vaping products would harm public health. His most recent letter to federal officials shows that he is one of the few voices of reason in the United States.
The UK has taken an entirely different approach, as their National Health Service promotes vaping as a superior alternative to cigarettes. On their resource page, Using E-Cigarettes to Stop Smoking, they argue that vaping is 95 percent safer.
Keep in mind that the NHS has skin in the game. As a publicly funded service, they are quick to discard health modalities that are ineffectual. Herbal medicine, naturopathy, and homeopathy have all been given the ax as they were unable to make a scientific case for their efficacy.
No matter your opinion on natural medicine, it cannot be denied that the NHS would be quick to discard vaping if it was not effective and great price performer. The New England Journal of Medicine study where vaping crushed nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation was based on data collected in the UK.
Critics of this study point out that although vapers are more likely to quit smoking, the much lower number of nicotine replacement therapy users who actually quit smoking were more likely to be totally nicotine free.
This is not that surprising. Decades of research and millions have been invested in nicotine replacement therapy. They have devised established practices for tapering and titration.
The next logical step is for similar protocols to be established for vapers to help them on the road to zero nicotine and not to demand some gold-standard of total nicotine abstinence for adult vapers and smokers.
Teen Vaping Epidemic
Concerns about the teen vaping epidemic are responsible for the flavor ban. The outbreak of mysterious lung disease merely provided political cover for executive overreach. The misleading and frightening headlines masking the fact that adults are being deprived of ash free cigarette alternatives.
It is interesting that Juul chose to pull the plug on their popular mint flavor. Despite being the most popular flavor with minors, there seemed be a reasonable chance that it would avoid the ax of a federal flavor ban.
The irony was rich, and it stunk of regulatory capture. The flavor ban in New York protected tobacco interests and Juul. It was no loss for Juul to cut out Fruit Medley, which was a slow seller and pretty much shunned by the bulk of the vaping community.
The rejection of Juul Fruit Medley by the consumer is an interesting phenomena that says more about the quality of that product than adult preferences. A study conducted by Dr. Farsalino that surveyed 69,000 adult vapers found that a majority of adult vapers prefer flavored vape juice and fruit flavors are at the top of the list. The failure of Fruit Medley with adults was almost certainly due its flavor.
Until this week, it appeared that Juul Mint would remain to control the vaping market. Through some serious regulatory and lobbying Jiu Jit Su, vape flavors for "open" or refillable vaping devices, most of which have a much lower in nicotine level and not popular with minors, seem destined to bear the brunt of the flavor ban.
The frequent use of fanciful names and flavor profiles that refer to Reagan-era sugar coated cereals and candies, has given the anti-vapers and their political allies plenty of ammunition. Few asked the obvious question: Why would a child born in 2003 be nostalgic for the childhood memories of a previous generation?
Marlboro wasn't using Doris Day or Groucho Marx to hook 1970s smokers. It is quite conceited for Generation X, Boomers and older Millennials to believe that today's youth are endlessly fascinated by childhood memories from three decades earlier.
Kid Friendly Juul?
Unlike dated sugar-coated cereal references, the appeal of the Juul device to minors is obvious. These same characteristics also made it an excellent alternative for many adults. It is almost impossible to detect Juul usage, as the very little ejuice needs to be burned to produce a satisfying experience.
This is because of the use of nic salts. Nicotine levels have been left out the national debate on teen use. Yet the UK, which promotes vaping on a national level, has far less teen vaping and attributes this to a nicotine level cap of 2 percent. They also argue that the UK outperforms the rest of the EU when it comes to smoking cessation due to their embrace of ecigarettes. S
Nic salts, which have a lower pH and are less harsh when used at higher levels. This allowed Juul to field a much more potent and compact product. A Juul is discrete, silent and nearly odorless.
If you are a parent or adult who is concerned that your child is vaping, we have created a comprehensive guide: How to Spot Teen Vaping. The author loves to vape and was once a very sneaky minor. A Juul is difficult to detect but the information contained within will give you a fighting chance.
Almost any article you find discussing the flavor ban will casually throw around the names of fruit flavors but then use the sales of Juul Mint to prop up their argument about the popularity of these "characterizing" flavors with minors. Unicorn Milk and Tutti Frutti seem to be the two most popular targets. Cuttwood's Unicorn Milk has nothing to do with Juul, Juuling or teen vaping. Apparently, a Tutti Frutti vape juice exists.
The relevance of these flavors to teen vaping is unclear as they are not nic salts or vape pod flavors. There is no empirical evidence that they are particularly popular with minors. Minors were primarily vaping Juul Mint and Mango.
It has been rumored that the impending flavor ban would spare menthol and ban mint. This is no doubt the result of the war on menthol cigarettes, which has been raging for decades. The FDA could hardly ban menthol vapes and leave menthol cigarettes on the market.
When it comes to vaping flavors, the distinction between menthol and mint flavors is a murky one. But in the fact free world of mainstream vape reporting, there is a world of difference. I have had the opportunity sample countless mint and menthol vapes, I am not certain there is any difference at all (except in those cases where menthol vape juice is mixed with tobacco flavoring).
The artificial flavor used to create both flavor profiles is often identical. The ratios are proprietary. Whether a vape juice company chose to call their flavor mint or menthol boils down to marketing preferences and possibly a coin flip.
When you have the counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway rambling about “tutti frutti” flavored ejuices and the FDA not having jurisdiction over vape shops, it is clear that more information is needed before the full extent of the flavor ban is understood.
The fixation on fruit flavors is frankly puzzling. Tutti Frutti and Scooby Snacks have no more resonance with a minor today than W.C. Fields did with my generation.
Moreover, the most fanciful and complex of these dessert and fruit vape juices are generally high VG formulations.
High VG juices are generally used for subohm vaping, a style practiced almost exclusively by adults. There is not much in the vaping world that is less kid friendly than a loud, thirst, service revolver sized box mod.
Juul Marketing to Minors
The truth is that retro ejuice names and flavors target adult vapers. At some point, marketing to Millennials became synonymous with marketing to minors. Juul learned the dangers of market ecigs on social media first hand, as virtually everything they did to reach young adult smokers was framed as appealing to minors.
The Stanford study on e-cig marketing would be laughable if it was not taken so seriously. It is literally a curated slideshow of ecig advertisements, with everything spun with a decidedly anti-vaping point of view.
It is important not to downplay the dangers of teen vaping. At Vapor4Life, we have no interest in selling our products to minors or adult non-smokers.
That being said, it is enlightening to see how loosely the authors of the Stanford study defined “marketing to teens”.
Coupons and discounted items at sporting events automatically qualified. Specific details about the composition of the audience or even concerts in question was invariably omitted, except in the case of the Super Bowl and couple of music festivals.
A bit of effort to dig up gate sales, and demographics would have made this slideshow resemble an actual study. Instead, what we got was an image gallery.
Evocative of Underage Teens
Juul is often assailed for their short-lived “Vaporized” campaign. The Stanford Study noted that Juul, “featured models in their 20s appearing in trendy clothes engaged in poses and movements more evocative of underage teens than mature adults.” This word-salad could mean almost anything.
It is unclear why Juul chose to avoid sickly, seething and sullen models. Vibrant young adults and bright colors are generally shunned by advertisers.
Why don't Mercedes Benz commercials feature octogenarians boasting of their first taste of true luxury during the 1970s fuel crisis ? I’m sure a campaign that interviewed senior citizens discussing smoky diesel fumes, Jimmy Carter and landau tops would move the sales needle.
Targeting Teens With E-Cig Ads
The Stanford researchers provided additional clarification. “Some attendees were photographed in poses reminiscent of teen behavior, such as wearing a hat on backwards, while holding a skate board, or a girl with purple hair holding a Juul.”
“Photos show(ing) attractive young girls in colorful Juul tee shirts serving as hosts and distributors of free samples.”
Below is the image in question. The subjects are young, and appear to identify as female. But to call them “young girls” seems inappropriate as they are clearly adults.
Millennial does not equal minor. This age cohort ranges from 25 to almost 40 years of age. The vast drop in youth smoking rates that has occurred in the last few years did not include the bulk of this generation.
Strict E-Cig Laws Punish Marginalized
It is ironic that the first of these laws was a San Francisco e-cig ban which punished marginalized residents. The city has a reputation for embracing harm reduction strategies to deal with IV drug usage. Safe injection sites are in the works and needle exchanges are providing millions of clean “rigs” to users. They have betrayed this humane tradition with their ecig ban.
Only in 2019 can a city like San Francisco, long viewed as bastion of LGBTQ+ rights, lead the charge against cigarette alternatives. Smoking and vaping are most prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community. A CDC study found 20.3 percent of adults who identify as gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual smoke cigarettes. The rate for the nation as a whole is 14 percent.
Bisexual women are more than twice as likely to smoke as heterosexual women. The LGBT population in the US is three times more likely to use ecigs: 7.5 percent versus 2.6 percent. No other demographic group vapes as much.
Rural Americans also suffer under ecig bans, which is why Iowa AG Thomas Miller blasted last year’s FDA regulations. Access to cigarette alternatives could potentially exacerbate the already statistically worse health outcomes that face rural smokers.
The CDC reports that African American who smoke consume fewer cigarettes on average. They also report more quit attempts and less success at quitting than their White and Hispanic counterparts.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health conducted a study into racial and ethnic differences among e-cigarette users. They found African Americans were more likely to embrace e-cigarettes as a cessation aid than Whites and Hispanics. They were also statistically inclined to avoid dual use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
This study was wed to outmoded view that ecigs and cigarettes are equivalent and the potential use of e-cigarettes was a negative. But this calculus was shown to be bankrupt when vaping crushed nicotine replacement therapy in a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
Strict ecig laws punish marginalized groups most severely but they also damage small businesses. This certainly this should be a concern of the current administration which promised to reduce the regulatory burden in order to promote economic growth.
Why is Vaping the Target?
Why is nicotine vaping the target and not alcohol? According to the CDC, alcohol is a scourge that killed 4,300 minors in 2018 and sent over 100,000 to the emergency room.
Vaping is low-hanging fruit for regulators and politicians looking to score easy points. Smokers and especially vapers are not heavily represented in middle and upper income brackets, whereas drinking rates are highest among educated, high-income adults.