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Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.7, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.7, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, SL.6-8.5, WHST.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.4

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.3, Civ.10, Eco.2

NCSS: Production, distribution, and consumption; Science, technology, and society

Is Juul Fuuling You?

It’s as small as a flash drive—but has as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Did the company behind this popular electronic cigarette intentionally market its product to teens?

Margarida Ferreira, 15, first tried a Juul in the summer of 2017. Juul is a super-popular brand of e-cigarette, also known as a vape. A friend had gotten a Juul from her older sister and encouraged Margarida to try it.

“I didn’t like it at first,” Margarida says, “but back at school, everyone had one.” In the bathrooms, the sweet smell of the flavors from Juul pods—such as mango or “cool cucumber”—hung in the air. “I thought, ‘It’s fruit. It can’t be bad for you,’ ” she recalls.

Before long, Margarida was vaping every day. “I couldn’t stop,” she says. “Now it’s always in the back of my head: ‘Where’s my Juul?’ ”

Walk into a middle or high school today, and you won’t find many students who smoke cigarettes. But according to a 2017 study by the National Institutes of Health, more than 1 in 3 high school seniors and nearly 2 in 10 eighth-graders have tried “vaping” (using e-cigarettes or a similar device). 

Most teens don’t realize e-cigs are as addictive as tobacco cigarettes, and Juul is by far their favorite brand. Its devices look like flash drives, so they often escape detection by adults. Sales of the gadgets, which debuted in 2015, jumped more than 600 percent last year.

Now the U.S. government says it is investigating whether Juul Labs intentionally marketed its product to teens, which is illegal. Officials also announced last month that the government was planning to take measures that would help prevent sales of most flavored e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18.

Margarida Ferreira, 15, first tried a Juul in the summer of 2017. Juul is a super-popular brand of e-cigarette. It is also known as a vape. A friend had gotten a Juul from her older sister. She encouraged Margarida to try it.

“I didn’t like it at first,” Margarida says. “But back at school, everyone had one.” In the bathrooms, the sweet smell of the flavors from Juul pods hung in the air. Flavors include mango or “cool cucumber.” “I thought, ‘It’s fruit. It can’t be bad for you,’ ” she recalls.

Before long, Margarida was vaping every day. “I couldn’t stop,” she says. “Now it’s always in the back of my head: ‘Where’s my Juul?’ ”

Walk into a middle or high school today. You will not find many students who smoke cigarettes. But according to a 2017 study by the National Institutes of Health, more than 1 in 3 high school seniors have tried “vaping” (using e-cigarettes or a similar device). And nearly 2 in 10 eighth-graders have tried it.

Most teens do not realize e-cigs are as addictive as tobacco cigarettes. Juul is by far their favorite brand. Its devices look like flash drives, so they often escape being noticed by adults. Sales of the gadgets began in 2015. They jumped more than 600 percent last year.

Now the U.S. government says it is investigating whether Juul Labs intentionally marketed its product to teens, which is illegal. Last month, officials also said the government plans to take steps to help stop sales of most flavored e-cigarettes to people under age 18.

Getting Teens Addicted?

Marketing cigarettes to teens isn’t  new (see “Targeting Teens,” below). Tobacco companies have “long known that in order to get smokers . . . to be lifelong customers, they have to start them in the teen years,” says Robert Jackler of Stanford University, who studies tobacco advertising. “So [the industry uses] images and slogans that suggest that if you smoke, you’ll be popular.”

Jackler and others argue that Juul used today’s tech to target teens: Juul’s original ad campaign featured young-looking models. The images were posted on Instagram. 

A former Juul employee told The New York Times that he and others in the company were well aware that the ads could appeal to teens.

Juul’s critics note that the vape’s juicy flavor offerings only increase its appeal to teens. “Young people say that flavors are the top reason they try e-cigarettes,” says Yale University’s Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, who has studied vaping. 

Juul Labs denies it tries to attract teen customers. The company says its mission is to get people who are addicted to cigarettes to switch to e-cigarettes, which have been advertised as being less harmful.

Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, doesn’t buy it. She’s been investigating Juul.

The company’s goal isn’t “getting adults to stop smoking,” she says. “[It’s] getting kids to start vaping—and making money [off them].”

Marketing cigarettes to teens is not new (see “Targeting Teens,” below). Tobacco companies have “long known that in order to get smokers . . . to be lifelong customers, they have to start them in the teen years,” says Robert Jackler of Stanford University. He studies tobacco advertising. “So [the industry uses] images and slogans that suggest that if you smoke, you’ll be popular.”

Jackler and others argue that Juul used today’s tech to target teens. Juul’s original ad campaign images were posted on Instagram. They featured young-looking models.

A former Juul employee told The New York Times that he and other people in the company were well aware that the ads could appeal to teens.

Juul’s critics note that the vape’s juicy flavor offerings only increase its appeal to teens. “Young people say that flavors are the top reason they try e-cigarettes,” says Yale University’s Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, who has studied vaping.

Juul Labs denies it tries to attract teen customers. The company says its mission is to get people who are addicted to cigarettes to switch to e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes have been advertised as being less harmful.

Maura Healy, the attorney general of Massachusetts, does not buy it. She has been investigating Juul.

The company’s goal is not “getting adults to stop smoking,” she says. “[It’s] getting kids to start vaping—and making money [off them].”

Health Risks

Illustration by Ward Sutton

E-cigarettes were invented in 2003. Because they’re relatively new, there isn’t much research yet on the long-term health effects of using them. But experts say that what we do know is scary. For example, tests have found that the vapor users inhale from some e-cigarettes contains cancer-causing substances and toxic chemicals. 

And then there’s the nicotine. This is the drug that both vapes and tobacco cigarettes deliver to users—and what gets people hooked. Research has shown that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. This is especially dangerous for teens, whose brains are still developing. 

“The nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent’s brain, leading to years of addiction,” Scott Gottlieb, head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, wrote in a statement. Indeed, a 2017 study found that high school students who used e-cigarettes were seven times more likely to be smoking regular cigarettes two years later than kids who didn’t vape. 

E-cigarettes were invented in 2003. They are relatively new, so there is not much research yet on the long-term health effects of using them. But experts say that what we do know is scary. Users inhale vapor from e-cigarettes. Tests have found that the vapor contains cancer-causing substances and toxic chemicals.

And then there is the nicotine. This is the drug that both vapes and tobacco cigarettes deliver to users. It is what gets people hooked. Research has shown that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. This is especially dangerous for teens because their brains are still developing.

“The nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent’s brain, leading to years of addiction,” Scott Gottlieb wrote in a statement. He is head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Indeed, a 2017 study found that high school students who used e-cigarettes were seven times more likely to be smoking regular cigarettes two years later than kids who did not vape.

Cracking Down on Juul

Despite the dangers, vaping is on the rise among young people. That’s why the government recently required Juul and other e-cig companies to submit a plan for how they’ll keep their products away from teens. Juul has also changed its ad strategy. Last month, the company removed all posts from its Instagram account, which is no longer active. It’s also spending $30 million on research and education.

“We are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke, from using our products,” Juul’s head, Kevin Burns, said in a statement. 

But not everyone is convinced. After all, Stanford’s Jackler says, “this company got really rich by tricking you into doing something that you can’t stop.” 

With additional reporting by Tod Olson and Lisa Lombardi

 

Despite the dangers, vaping is on the rise among young people. That is why the government recently required Juul and other e-cig companies to submit a plan for how they will keep their products away from teens. Juul has also changed its ad strategy. Last month, the company removed all posts from its Instagram account. That account is no longer active. Juul is also spending $30 million on research and education.

“We are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke, from using our products,” Kevin Burns said in a statement. He is the head of Juul.

But not everyone is convinced. After all, Stanford’s Jackler says, “this company got really rich by tricking you into doing something that you can’t stop.”

With additional reporting by Tod Olson and Lisa Lombardi

Write About It! How do companies like Juul Labs try to attract young customers?

Targeting Teens

From the collection of Stanford University/tobacco.stanford.edu

Tobacco companies once openly marketed to young people. For example, in the early 1900s, some cigarette packs included baseball cards. 

Later, advertising tactics became more subtle—but remained effective. Take, for example, Joe Camel (right), who appeared in ads from 1987 to 1997. The character became as recognizable as Mickey Mouse to many kids. Experts say he greatly boosted sales among teens. 

In 1998, Congress passed a law banning cigarette makers from targeting youth. But critics say companies get around the law. For example, a recent study found they’re paying popular Instagrammers to post photos of themselves with cigarettes. Followers who see the posts may not realize that they’re ads.

Tobacco companies once openly marketed to young people. For example, in the early 1900s, some cigarette packs included baseball cards. 

Later, advertising tactics became more subtle—but remained effective. Take, for example, Joe Camel (right), who appeared in ads from 1987 to 1997. The character became as recognizable as Mickey Mouse to many kids. Experts say he greatly boosted sales among teens. 

In 1998, Congress passed a law banning cigarette makers from targeting youth. But critics say companies get around the law. For example, a recent study found they’re paying popular Instagrammers to post photos of themselves with cigarettes. Followers who see the posts may not realize that they’re ads.

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