E-cigarettes (vaping) have taken the market by storm, but it is also facing a growing number of lawsuits all too familiar with its predecessor, the traditional cigarette. Vaping, the relatively new way of inhaling nicotine, still comes with negative health effects associated with smoking cigarettes. While traditional cigarette companies successfully infiltrated the adolescents of prior decades, it lacked the fun flavors that e-cigarettes can achieve today. At the helm of recent e-cigarette litigation is the popular brand Juul. Let’s look how vaping can affect the body and how the litigation has developed.
With a social media marketing strategy modeled after traditional tobacco campaigns outlawed decades earlier, JUUL has been able to capture the youth of America and dominate the e-cigarette market. Although tobacco advertisements had been banned on all social media platforms, JUUL targeted social media influencers with large networks of followers, paying them to use or hold their product. Using young, fit, energetic models in their advertisements, JUUL users were portrayed as youthful, adventurous, and free spirited.
The design of the JUUL device assisted in their appeal to the youth market by making the JUUL brand e-cigarettes easier to conceal for underage smokers than cigarettes. The rectangular design made them easy for parents or teachers to mistake for USB flash drives, while eliminating the lasting smell associated with cigarettes. This kept parents from becoming aware of the product. To further entice the youth market, JUUL offered a variety of fruit and candy flavors, and intentionally hid warning labels regarding the highly addictive nicotine these products contained.
Beneath it all, JUUL products contained two key items: flavor and addiction. Marketing of a carefree, edgy lifestyle fueled by viral social media campaigns increased the use of e-cigarettes in high school students by 135% from 2017 to 2019. The labels contained no warnings about the potential dangers of using JUUL products, including the long-term effects of vaping and inhaling nicotine salts and flavored chemicals on the pulmonary, neurological, and cardiovascular systems. Since warning labels were not applied until August 2018, most users were vaping and becoming addicted without the knowledge that the products even contained nicotine. Studies have shown that most students would not have started vaping had they known this information.
Rather than a creating a smoking cessation tool for which e-cigarettes were originally designed, JUUL calculated and ensured that most users would need more nicotine than traditional e-cigarettes contained. Working to develop a product that could deliver a potent dose of addictive nicotine and prevent the sore throat and coughing experienced by many new users, JUUL formulated the use of nicotine salts. This highly addictive form of nicotine is absorbed by the body at a higher rate than the nicotine found in cigarettes or earlier vaping liquids. Standard e-cigarettes contain 1 to 2% nicotine, but JUUL increased that dosage to 5%.
JUUL sold this higher dose vaping liquid in refills called JUULpods, which are prefilled with a proprietary mixture of nicotine salts, binders, and chemical flavorings. One JUULpod has the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes, and unlike traditional cigarettes, with the harsh irritant of tobacco smoke limiting how quickly a user can inhale nicotine, JUUL e-cigarettes allow a user to inhale nicotine more quickly. This, in turn, causes nicotine addiction to occur quickly.
While touting their product as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes, JUUL failed to properly warn about the harm that vaping can cause to the human lungs and body. Once the vapor is inhaled into the lungs, the nicotine passes quickly into the bloodstream. Within seconds the nicotine is delivered to the brain where it stimulates the pleasure centers, mimicking dopamine, so that the brain starts to associate nicotine use with feeling good. This effect on the neurotransmitters in the brain can be powerfully addictive as the brain becomes reliant on this artificial source of stimulation.
JUUL e-cigarettes deliver nicotine more quickly, more efficiently, and at higher doses than other e-cigarettes, increasing the users’ risk of addiction. Also, nicotine affects young peoples’ cognitive development, making them more susceptible to other addictions later in life. Nicotine addiction, and nicotine’s negative health effects including heart disease, vascular disease, and the increased risk of strokes, are not the only risks of vaping. Vaping the liquid ingredients at elevated temperatures may result in the generation of known pulmonary toxicants such as formaldehyde.
Recent studies examining the effects of e-cigarettes on the lungs show some of the dangers of vaping. One study shows that vaping causes an immune response in the lungs involving increased neutrophilic activation and altered mucin secretion. Another study suggests that hypersensitivity pneumonitis and acute respiratory distress syndrome are risks of e-cigarette use in adolescents. There is growing scientific concern among public health officials that vaping may cause a much higher rate of COPD in young adults. In addition to these risks to the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, we know that there are carcinogens in the vapor created by JUUL e-cigarettes and scientists are concerned that nicotine may serve as a catalyst to increase the risk of cancer.
In response to the surge in teen vaping and the rise of vaping sicknesses in the U.S., federal and state governments have finally passed a variety of new e-cigarette regulations and have raised the smoking age to 21. In recent years, JUUL has been hit with numerous lawsuits by both individuals and state governments over its misleading and predatory marketing practices. Regardless of these attempts to slow their appeal, JUUL has continued to solidify total dominance of the US market. In 2019, despite growing bad press and regulatory challenges, JUUL’s market share climbed to 75%.
The outcomes of the lawsuits filed against JUUL are still pending and they continue with their marketing strategies that focus on America’s youth that have proven so successful.
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