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What happened to Juul Labs after ‘Big Vape’?

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TThe problem with writing a book about current events is that events don’t stay current for long. I finished writing my book, Big Vape: The incendiary rise of Juul, in January 2021, at a time when the future of mega-popular vaping brand Juul Labs and the entire American e-cigarette industry was in flux. Every time the news broke after the draft was written, I wished I could go back and update it, but of course that wasn’t possible.

I got a little lucky when my book was adapted into a Netflix docuseries, Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul, which premiered on October 11. The show’s producers worked on it long after my book came out, allowing them to incorporate big developments that hadn’t happened when I finished writing – but even still, Juul’s story and vaping is happening, and no one knows how it will end.

Here’s what’s changed since then Big Vape was released, and what I consider to be the biggest question mark over the vaping industry.

Regulators Banned Juul… Then backs up

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has long since caught up when it comes to regulating the vaping industry. Brands like Juul were already widely available across the country when, in 2016, the agency finalized a process to evaluate their health effects. This meant that e-cigarette manufacturers already in operation had to retroactively prepare documentation proving that their products were beneficial to public health; if they failed to convince the FDA, regulators could order them to stop selling their vapes in the United States

When I finished writing Big Vape, Juul had submitted its application but the FDA had not yet rendered a verdict. Then, in a dramatic decision in June 2022, the FDA said Juul failed to provide adequate toxicology data for its products and removed them from the market.

Then, following an appeal from Juul, the FDA began a secondary review of its data, which is still ongoing. Meanwhile, Juul devices remain on the market. It’s been more than a year since all this happened, and the FDA has given little public indication of what it will ultimately decide.

Juul has also submitted an application for a new product: a “next generation” Bluetooth-enabled device intended to lock out underage users and reject counterfeit pods, but no one knows if the FDA will authorize it.

Tobacco giant Altria has broken up with Juul

In late 2018, tobacco giant Altria (which owns the company that makes Marlboro cigarettes) paid nearly $13 billion to acquire 35% of Juul. But as scrutiny of Juul intensified and the FDA cracked down on its marketing and sales practices, Altria valued its investment lower and lower, down to just $250 million by the end of 2022. March 2023, Altria announced that it would exchange its minority stake. for the right to license some of Juul’s intellectual property, a sign that Juul’s business had suffered enough that Big Tobacco wanted to move on. Altria also purchased NJOY, another e-cigarette maker.

This is just one part of Juul’s financial woes. Juul has been sued by everyone from school districts to state attorneys general for its role in the teen vaping epidemic, and over the past two years has agreed to pay nearly $3 billion in legal regulations. Juul’s revenue is also down significantly from its peak and the company has seen several rounds of layoffs.

Teenagers have largely left Juul

Juul has become known as the electronic cigarette used by teenagers in school bathrooms and on Snapchat. But these days, federal data suggests that underage users have mostly turned to single-use vaporizers, which, unlike Juul, which now only comes in tobacco and menthol varieties, are available in tons of flavors. Among the roughly 10% of U.S. teens who vape regularly, more than half now use disposable e-cigarettes, according to the FDA. My anecdotal research confirms this. When I walk around my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I see tons of teenagers with vapes made by brands like Elf Bar and Air Bar, and almost none drink Juuls.

For the record, most disposable vapes are not supposed to be sold to anyone, minor or not, because they have not obtained FDA clearance. But it has proven so difficult for the agency to keep pace with regulating a large and ever-changing market that many of them continue to be widely available.

There is (still) a lot of debate about the risks and benefits of vaping

That was true when I started covering vaping in 2018 and it still is true today. Some researchers believe vaping can help adults quit smoking and switch to a less dangerous form of nicotine. Meanwhile, other studies reveal that vaping is not an effective way to quit smoking and may carry significant health risks, including increased risks of developing lung and heart diseases. The big downside to this whole debate is that e-cigarettes have only been widely used and studied in the last two decades, which isn’t that long in the world of health research. Other health risks – or benefits – could emerge as vaping devices are studied in the coming years.

However, one thing remains clear: the safest choice is not to consume any tobacco products.

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