As U.S. lawmakers tighten the regulatory choke-hold on JUUL Labs, the vape manufacturer is turning to low- and middle-income markets overseas with the same youth-oriented marketing strategies that made its products a runaway success in the U.S.
In the Philippines, anti-tobacco health officials are worried about the rampant spread of JUUL products in their island nation. The company debuted its vapes in the capital city of Manila in June. Now, weeks later, they are ubiquitous there with a presence in kiosks and shops everywhere.
Dr. Maria Encarnita Limpin of Manila specializes in lung disease and directs a nonprofit that has helped push through rules prohibiting the marketing and sale of cigarettes to minors in the Philippines. She told NPR that she is horrified by JUUL’s sudden and aggressive sales tactics in her country.
“It’s like they mushroomed,” she told NPR.
Whereas JUUL has voluntarily pulled its flavored vapes from the U.S. market amid intensifying scrutiny for its leading role in the youth vaping epidemic, the company sells its fruit- and mint-flavored vape products favored by kids and teens in stores all over Manila.
The Philippines doesn’t have the regulatory framework in place to prohibit JUUL from marketing and selling its products to kids, nor does it have laws prohibiting the company from advertising its products as safe or safer than cigarettes. According to NPR, the company appears to be taking advantage of this regulatory environment to establish its foothold in the Philippines, just as it did when it launched in the U.S.
So, while JUUL has “apologized” for its part in triggering the youth vaping crisis in the U.S., it is actively creating a new generation of nicotine addicts in the Philippines.
According to NPR, the Philippine Food and Drug Administration tried to issue an administrative order prohibiting the sale and marketing of vaping products to minors, but two Philippine vape companies are challenging the order in court and stalling any regulatory action.
That’s created the perfect opportunity for JUUL to slip in and peddle its products to young Filipinos, regardless of its knowledge that nicotine harms the developing brain until age 25.
JUUL is also using the same proven tactics in Indonesia and is laying the groundwork for its entry into “a slew of nations,” according to NPR. The company is currently hiring country managers and establishing regional hubs in major cities.
Tobacco Industry researcher Shane MacGuill, who works for the marketing research firm Euromonitor International, told NPR that JUUL is positioning itself in developing markets so its sales will be poised to grow alongside the incomes of the resident population.
“If you look at where the majority of tobacco and nicotine consumption takes place globally, it is in lower middle income markets,” Mr. MacGuill told NPR.
Not all countries are welcoming JUUL and other vape companies. Last month, for instance, India announced a ban on all vape production and sales, proactively slamming the door on the vaping industry and cutting off its access to kids and adults in the world’s second most populated country.
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.