In a rambling press conference that recycled almost every known lie, exaggeration and myth about JUUL and vaping, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced an investigation of controversial San Francisco-based vape company JUUL Labs.
“I want to be clear with the public,” Healey said. “This isn’t about getting adults to stop smoking cigarettes. This is about getting kids to start vaping. That’s what these companies are up to. They’re engaged in an effort to get kids addicted, get them hooked so they will have customers for the rest of their lives.”
But every panicky political attack on JUUL only seems to help manufacturer JUUL Labs grow more rapidly. Since April, when the coordinated campaign against JUUL led by Truth Initiative and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids culminated in press conferences and Congressional warnings, the company has taken a whopping 70.5 percent share of the convenience store/gas station vape market. JUUL’s sales for the year ending July 14 topped $1.1 billion, according to Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog.
That billion dollars didn’t come from teenagers’ allowances. According to the CDC, just 14 percent of adults smoked last year, down from 16 percent the year before — an astonishing 12.5 percent drop in one year. It would be foolish to pretend that JUUL’s skyrocketing sales didn’t play a part in that. The teenage smoking decline is even more dramatic. But Healey didn’t let the improved health of smokers get in the way of her grandstanding.
“At a time when lung cancer rates are declining across the country and teen smoking of traditional cigarettes is at an all-time low, we are unfortunately seeing many companies pick up the playbook of the tobacco companies and look to market to and get young people addicted,” she said.
As with all anti-vaping demagogues, Healey injected a lot of unintentional comedy into her presentation, especially when explaining the products she showed photos of (mostly from Instagram). Explaining that the images (seen in the tweet below) “represent the lengths to which these companies are willing to go to market these products to kids,” she said e-liquid flavors “smell and taste” like cotton candy and blue raspberry. She probably hasn’t tried tasting them.
In one IG post, someone had shoved a JUUL into a Sharpie as a joke. But Healey thinks it’s a real commercial product — “a vape that is in the form of a Sharpie magic marker.” All of the serious, child-worshipping teachers and pediatricians on stage with Healey nodded in disapproval. Any teenage juulers watching must have been rolling on the floor choking with laughter.
None of Healey’s actions so far have come close to touching JUUL Labs. The AG announced her office has sent cease-and-desist letters to two online sellers — Direct ELiquid LLC and Eonsmoke LLC — for not verifying ID during internet sales. Healey says her investigation will “examine JUUL’s efforts to audit its own website and other online retailers that sell its products to see how effective they are at preventing minors from accessing JUUL or JUUL compatible products” — but JUUL is not required to police sales of other companies’ “JUUL-compatible” products. Indeed, they would almost certainly prefer that those clones disappear.
JUUL Labs released a statement in response to Healey from chief communications officer Matt David, offering to “work with” with the AG to prevent teenage juuling. “We utilize stringent online tools to block attempts by those under the age of 21 from purchasing our products, including unique ID match and age verification technology,” said David, who then listed all of the existing “childproofing” JUUL Labs utilizes to prevent pesky adolescents from making purchases.
Noting that “we have never marketed to anyone underage,” David provided a chart showing JUUL’s monthly sales compared to its marketing expenditures. The marketing growth certainly hasn’t increased at the same pace as the sales — but why would it? Most of JUUL’s publicity has come from tobacco control organizations and the FDA, whose comical posturing in April drove JUUL sales to dizzying new heights in May.
“Like many Silicon Valley technology startups, our growth is not the result of marketing but rather a superior product disrupting an archaic industry,” said David. “When adult smokers find an effective alternative to cigarettes, they tell other adult smokers. That’s how we’ve gained 70% of the market share.” Cocky? Yes, but JUUL really is disrupting the cigarette industry.
JUUL doesn’t need marketing, according to David, because it has the best word-of-mouth advertising from ex-smokers. It’s also lucky enough to have Scott Gottlieb, Maura Healey, Chuck Schumer, and Truth Initiative, all of them out there working hard to make JUUL a household word — just as though they were being paid for it.
Like the original drug warriors, whose hair-on-fire fear mongering popularized marijuana beyond the fringe cultures it had been previously confined to, Maura Healey and the other cartoonish anti-vaping evangelists just make e-cigarettes more and more popular. It’s like Reefer Madness without combustion. You want kids to stop vaping, Maura? Quit advertising it.