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FDA to restrict sale of flavored Juul pods to fight teen vaping

Flavored pods make getting into Juuling easier for teens.
Flavored pods make getting into Juuling easier for teens.

Image: scott olson/Getty Images

It’s like taking candy away from a baby.

The FDA will move to ban Juul’s fun flavors from most convenience stores to fight teen use of the product, reports the New York Times. The agency will also require stricter age verification measures for buying Juuls online.

The new policies are part of the FDA’s investigation into teens’ love of the product, and whether Juul itself is to blame. In September, the FDA gave JUUL 60 days to introduce new initiatives to fight teen use. Now that time has expired, the FDA is taking action themselves. The restrictions will also apply to other big tobacco companies that sell flavored nicotine pods. The FDA will reportedly share further details of the plan the week of November 12. 

Juul pods come in mango, cucumber, fruit, and creme, in addition to mint, menthol, Virginia tobacco, and classic tobacco. The FDA won’t allow gas stations and convenience stores to sell the more teen-friendly flavors: mango, cucumber, fruit, and creme. Vape shops and other “specialty retailers” will still be able to sell all the flavors, according to Reuters.

There aren’t details yet about how the stricter age verifications will work. Juul already restricts all online sales of its products to its own website, and is fighting counterfeiters who sell fake Juuls all over the internet. This is part of their push to curb teen vaping, because the Juul site already requires shoppers to verify their age with their social security number.

Juul's age verification page.

Juul’s age verification page.

Image: screenshot: rachel kraus/mashable/juul

Juul's age verification page.

Juul’s age verification page.

Image: SCREENSHOT: RACHEL KRAUS/MASHABLE/JUUL

Juul bills itself as a way to help adult smokers quit; it says that if you have never smoked, you should never start Juuling. But Juul has 70 percent of the market share of vaping devices. And Juuls in particular are the beloved e-cig brand of the high school set; “Juuling” is all over teenage social media, and a University of Michigan survey even found that 1 in 4 high school seniors said they vaped in 2017.

Going after flavored pods may be a good step in fighting teen use. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reported that flavored pods might be easing the runway into vaping: 81 percent of 12-17 year olds “who had ever used e-cigarettes had used a flavored e-cigarette the first time they tried the product,” their report reads. And flavored pods remain popular even after the first time: “81.5 percent of current youth e-cigarette users said they used e-cigarettes “because they come in flavors I like.”

Given that research, restricting sales of the flavors might deter some first time Juulers. Although, plenty of companies sell other flavored pods that still work with Juuls.

However, the Campaign — and anyone who has eyes — first attributes the rise of Juul to the “sleek design” and easy ability to hide the activity from adults. That is, like so many other trends, it’s the rebellious, aesthetic cool-factor of Juul that has made it so popular with teenagers — not just fun flavors. 

Juuling is also a verb all its own that specifically does not look like smoking; it’s a necessarily nonchalant action in the same way smoking was, but with an under the radar swagger all its own.

That aura is something harder for the FDA to regulate. The cool factor (and subsequent use) of cigarettes has only ebbed as the adverse health effects and stigma have taken precedence over the James Dean look. Teens also reportedly don’t view vapes as being that bad for them, despite current research indicating that vaping comes with health risks all its own. 

Juul and the FDA have a long road ahead of them if they’re both committed, together, to getting teens to stop Juuling. Making mango pods slightly harder to buy isn’t the end of the road.

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