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How Juul Exploited Teens’ Brains to Hook Them on Nicotine


(Medium) – In 2016, it looked like public health officials had dodged a bullet. Teen use of tobacco products, which had been rising for two straight years following the introduction of e-cigarettes, was on the decline. That relief has been short-lived. Teen e-cigarette use is up 75 percent this year, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recently declared youth e-cigarette use an “epidemic.”

What changed? One word: Juul. The discrete pod-style vape pen took off in 2017 with a polished design and a prolific social media marketing strategy. Like Google, the brand name has become a verb, with “juuling” now synonymous with vaping. As of August, Juul had gobbled up 72 percent of the e-cigarette market, and the company’s sales are up more than 800 percent from the previous year.

“Juul is the perfect product for kids because it’s all electronic and modern,” says Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at University of California San Francisco and director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “From a public health point of view, it’s a disaster.”

In addition to the product’s appealing design, Juul piggybacked on the trend of using sweet flavors that appeal to kids. The company also changed the formulation of its e-liquid to deliver higher levels of nicotine without the usual harshness, making it even more addictive.

“Juul was the perfect storm,” says Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “You couldn’t design a combination of a campaign and a product more perfect to undo all the good that has been done over the last 30 years.”

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