JUUL Labs announced Thursday that it is immediately suspending all online sales of its non-tobacco, non-menthol flavored vapes in the U.S.
The San Francisco-based vaping giant, which controls 75% of the U.S. vape market, already stopped selling its mango, fruit, crème, and cucumber flavors in brick-and-mortar stores nationwide last fall. That move came in response to escalating criticism for its role in sparking epidemic vaping levels among kids and teens in the U.S. with its youth-oriented flavors, product designs and marketing strategies.
JUUL announced the further restriction of its flavored vape sales ahead of a looming U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that is expected to bar all sales of non-tobacco flavored vaping products.
A look at JUUL’s U.S. website shows that it pared down its product line to four flavors: Mint, Menthol, Virginia Tobacco and Classic Tobacco.
JUUL’s new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, has been reviewing the company’s operations and marketing strategies since taking office less than a month ago.
“We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” Mr. Crosswaithe said in a statement.
The company has also suspended all U.S. TV, print and digital ads and said it would cease some of its lobbying efforts. A multitude of companies have broken their ties with JUUL, including its media manager, Omnicom Group, and a number of television networks. Several lawsuits have been filed against the vaping giant over its marketing practices.
Critics, however, say that concern for kids and teens isn’t the motivation behind the big changes at JUUL and that the company is using some of the same guerrilla tactics employed by Big Tobacco.
“Juul deceptively claims it will only be selling menthol versions in the U.S. and never mentions that it has simply re-categorized the popular mint flavor as menthol,” Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.
Research has shown that when minors lack access to sweet-flavored vapes, they simply migrate to mint and menthol flavors.
“If JUUL leadership is serious about containing the viral youth use of its product, it should be sold only in unsweetened tobacco flavor,” Stanford University professor Robert Jackler told CNBC.
Faced with a potentially shrinking market in the U.S., JUUL is aggressively expanding its presence overseas, mostly in countries with large low- and middle-income populations. It is also using some of the same youth-oriented marketing strategies overseas that made its products a huge success in the U.S.
Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett, together with Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing several individuals who are suing JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. On Oct. 7 they also filed lawsuits on behalf of school districts in three states, which seek to protect students and recover resources spent fighting the vaping epidemic.