You vape, bro? NOT ANY MORE—at least, not any more to those of you who source your mango Juul supplies from brick-and-mortar stores. As of today, that's no longer an option.
On Tuesday, the vaping giant announced that it would only sell its flavored nicotine juice boxes—mango, creme, fruit, and cucumber—online, to people the website's software can confirm to be over 21. Additionally, the company will drastically scale back its social media presence, abandoning Facebook and Instagram entirely. According to the Wall Street Journal, Juul wants to signal its commitment to slashing appeal among minors, but critics contend that the damage is already done.
All of this comes in response to the Food and Drug Administration's e-cigarette crackdown, which specifically targets flavored vapes beloved of younger users. In September, the FDA gave e-cigarette manufacturers 60 days to present concrete plans for keeping their products out of minors' hands. The clock ran out on that deadline over the weekend, thus Juul's announcement.
— JUUL (@JUULvapor) September 12, 2018
The goal of Juul Labs, as CEO Kevin Burns explained in a statement issued Tuesday, is to help smokers transition from cigarettes. As Burns put it, "We want to be the off-ramp for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes, not an on-ramp for America's youth to initiate on nicotine."
With an eye to the former, Juul will continue to sell its tobacco, mint, and menthol-flavored products in retail stores. Over-21s who want to keep buying flavored pods will need to provide personal information at checkout on Juul.com: name, date of birth, permanent address, and the last four digits of their social security number. Or, they'll need to upload a valid copy of a government-issued I.D., with two-factor authentication and photo technology to come "by year's end." To prevent people purchasing pods for minors, Juul will also cap quantities customers can buy per month.
Whatever the company's true intentions, however, Juul's popularity has ballooned among youths, with the FDA reporting that around 2 million kids in middle and high school regularly partake of the Juul. Doubtless you have seen the teens plugging these flash drive-looking machines into their mouths, releasing big white plumes through their little dragon nostrils. This habit may seem more benign than so many teens smoking regular old cancer sticks, until you remember that a single Juul pod holds as much nicotine as a full pack of cigarettes. Nicotine does not cause cancer, but it is addictive, and that particular Juul property has sent parents and educators alike into a panic.
As the New Yorker's Jia Tolentino reported in August, Juul's Instagram presence was "age-appropriate and fairly boring ... reminiscent of Real Simple" in its aesthetic. (I.e., muted, generically minimalist.) The problem accounts belong to teen influencers who glamorize the Juul experience, and the company seems to recognize this. It will maintain Twitter and YouTube presences for "non-promotional communications," and according to Burns, has "asked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat for their assistance in policing unauthorized, youth-oriented content on their platforms." Burns did not say, however, how those companies responded to the request.
It's not clear how much Juul can actually do about other users' content. "Juul's social media marketing fueled its popularity with kids," a Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids spokesperson, Caroline Renzulli, told the NY Times. "Now that it has captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its young customers are doing it for them."
Notably, the ban on in-person flavored Juul sales is not indefinite: They'll be back in stores eventually, provided those stores implement Juul's "21+ Restricted Distribution System," according to Burns's statement. He made no mention of plans to return to social media.