How JUUL cornered the youth tobacco market and what you should know

Over the next few weeks, in a three-part series of blog posts, we’ll take a deeper dive into the JUULing and vaping epidemic among youth in King County and across the country. We’ll look at what youth are doing in King County, what parents can do to help keep their kids tobacco-free, and how e-cigarette use can lead youth to a lifetime of nicotine dependence.

What looks like a flash drive, tastes like candy, smells like nothing and could cause lifelong nicotine dependence? JUUL, the latest trend in e-cigarette consumption or “vaping,” and it’s taken the tobacco industry (and likely, your local high school) by storm. The sleek electric device that plugs into USB ports is by far the most popular e-cigarette product, amassing 70% of the market since its introduction just three years ago.

So, what do you need to know? Let’s break it down.

Youth are using e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product, and when they do, they’re probably using JUUL. While youth tobacco use is on the decline, it’s still very popular. In a recent national survey, 3.6 million middle and high school students said they were current tobacco product users, and more than half used e-cigarettes.

circlesIn King County, twice as many youth are vaping as are smoking cigarettes, in 2016, 10% of 8th, 10th and 12th graders used e-cigarettes compared to 5% who smoked cigarettes. The number of youth who are vaping has significantly increased in the past few years. In 2012, only 3% of 8th, 10th and 12th graders used e-cigarettes, increasing 7% in 4 years. In Seattle schools last year, 90% of student tobacco violations were for vaping, and just over half of them involved JUUL.graph2

We even had a few instances of students as young as 5th grade vaping at school this year.  Students have been found vaping on campus, in the bathrooms and hallways, and in parking lots.  Students report not knowing that vaping is illegal on campus or for people under age 18. Students also report not knowing the potential negative effects vaping may have on their health Lisa Davidson, Prevention and Intervention Manager, Seattle Public Schools

Why JUUL? They taste good, and they’re easy to hide. Flavored tobacco products have been proven to appeal to young people and facilitate the start of tobacco product use. Almost all e-cigarettes used by youth are flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, candy, fruit, chocolate or other sweets. JUULs come in an assortment of enticing flavors, from juul in compmango to crème brulee. JUULs are also discrete (they fit in the palm of your hand), making them appealing to youth who want to hide them from parents or teachers. They even charge when plugged into a laptop USB port. JUULs have an advantage over other e-cig models because they don’t have a distinct odor and don’t release plumes of vapor.

Sound like a product designed with youth in mind? Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey thinks so. Her office is investigating JUUL Labs, Inc and other online e-cigarette retailers that sell JUUL and JUUL products over concerns about marketing and selling these products to minors.

Earlier this year, in May, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission issued warning letters to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers for selling liquids used in e-cigarettes with labeling and advertising that resembles kid-friendly food products, such as juice boxes, candy and cookies.

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JUULs and other e-cig companies are following in the marketing footsteps of Big Tobacco. Tobacco companies have a long history of marketing products to youth, and e-cigarette companies, including JUUL, are no exception. As demand increased, e-cigarette companies rapidly increased advertising spending, from $6.4 million in 2011 to $115 million in 2014. More than 18 million middle and high school kids were exposed to e-cigarette ads in 2014. About 1 in 2 middle and high school kids were exposed to e-cigarette ads in retail stores, and nearly 2 in 5 saw e-cigarette ads online. These advertisements can entice youth who would never smoke a cigarette to try vaping.

adsSo, what’s the big deal? Many teens think vaping isn’t that harmful, but a single JUUL pod (a cartridge of e-liquid) is roughly equal to a pack of cigarettes, or 200 cigarette puffs. This powerful nicotine punch is putting a new generation of youth at risk for nicotine dependence. Nicotine during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and have long-term negative impacts on brain development. If that’s not enough, heating vape liquid can produce dangerous byproducts, including heavy metals like lead, aluminum, and nickel, all of which youth are inhaling.

Stay tuned for the next in our series of blogs on youth and vaping. We chatted with Seattle Public Schools Prevention and Intervention Manager, Lisa Davidson, to get the best tips for parents on what they can do to help their kids remain tobacco-free.

Image credit:, and

Originally posted on August 6, 2018



One thought on “How JUUL cornered the youth tobacco market and what you should know

  1. It saddens me that “youth tobacco market” is even a real thing… I support the idea of vaping being used to help smokers stop smoking but they’re crossing the line by marketing it to kids.

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