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How Juul made nicotine go viral

If you don't look carefully though, you might miss what it's
advertising. It's this little thing and it's called: Juul, Juul, Juul looks more like a
flash drive or computer device but it is really another kind of e-cigarette. Since it launched in 2015 Juul has taken over about 70% of the
e-cigarette retail market share. It's now worth about 16 billion dollars. And that
success is often attributed to its sleek design, but the same features that make
Juul a well-engineered product also make it attractive to young people, many
of whom have never smoked before and that has people worried because devices
like Juul might be designed to help smokers get off cigarettes, but they're
also addicting a new generation to nicotine.

So what makes this one
e-cigarette so different from the rest? Answering that question starts with what
you see on the outside. Juul is an e-cigarette, but it really doesn't look
like one. It looks like a tech product and it's tiny. That allows smokers to get
a nicotine fix without having to worry about social stigma, but also allows
young users to consume nicotine inconspicuously without having to worry
about who sees them. Going to school having this in your pocket is a lot
better than having like something this big, that looks kind of like a lightsaber,
you know? You could kind of Juul anywhere in discreteness.

That discreteness is a big shift for e-cigarettes. Since the first patent in
1930 designs haven't been very subtle. The first generation of e-cigarettes
mimicked the shape size and colors of traditional cigarettes, sometimes even
with a fake light-up tip. The second and third generations focused on larger and
more customizable devices, with longer battery life and big plumes of vapor. Then came the Juul, a stripped-down version with no buttons, no big plumes of
vapor, and no complex refilling or recharging and it comes in a variety of
bright colors that set it apart from other e-cigarettes. Which made it look
like a tech product that young people were already familiar with. That is why
people called Juul the "iPhone of e-cigs." And that similarity makes sense.
Juul's founders met at Stanford design school and one worked as a design
engineer at Apple. They created the first
e-cigarette that looked more like a cool gadget and less like a drug delivery
device. This wasn't smoking or vaping, it was Juuling. Yeah like how grandma's have
iPhones now, it's kind of like normal.

Kids have Juuls now, because it looks
so modern. We kind of trust modern stuff a little bit more, so we're like we
can use it we're not gonna have any trouble with it, because you can trust it. The tech aspect definitely helps people get introduced to it and then
once they're introduced to it they're staying, because they're
conditioned to like all these different products and then this is another
product and it's just another product until you're addicted to nicotine.

And that is where it gets tricky. A 2017 study found that 25% of 15-24
year-olds recognize the Juul in a photo, but the majority of them didn't know
that it always contains nicotine. It's easy to trace that information gap. You
just have to look at the ads. When you look at Juul's marketing today you find
video testimonials from adult ex-smokers. My name is Lauren. My name is Brandy. My name is Carolyn. My name is Iman, I'm 38. But when Juul
first launched, their marketing looked a lot different. When you put those ads
alongside old cigarette ads, the similarities are pretty striking. Both marketed relaxation, sharing, travel, freedom, and sex appeal. It's now illegal
for cigarette brands to use these kinds of suggestive advertising themes, but for e-cigarette manufacturers who had products on the market before 2016, those strategies are still
unregulated. That's why a brand like Kandypens can be promoted in DJ Khaled
music videos, just like tobacco corporations used to pay stars to smoke
their cigarettes on screen.

But compared to cigarettes, Juuls are a lot easier to
start using. Typical e-cigarettes have between six and thirty milligrams of
nicotine per milliliter of vape liquid. One Juul pod packs in 59 milligrams.
That's three times the nicotine levels permitted in the European Union, which is
why Juul isn't sold there. But here in the US, e-cigarettes don't have the
same restrictions even though we know that nicotine dependency can prime
developing brains for future substance abuse disorders. The company says that
Juul's nicotine content is about as much as a pack of cigarettes, though tobacco
experts say it's likely more than that. And Juuls have a patented system for
delivering that nicotine. Most e-cigarettes use a potent version of nicotine called
freebase that gives users a strong hit, but Juuls vaporize a liquid made from
nicotine salts.

Those salts allow nicotine to be absorbed into the body at
about the same speed as regular cigarettes, much faster than most e-cigarettes. But unlike freebase nicotine which can be irritating, nicotine salt
goes down smoothly. So Juul packs a bigger nicotine dose into a much more
pleasant hit than most devices on the market and that has public health
officials worried because the US almost beat nicotine addiction among
kids. As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other
nicotine products and especially e-cigarettes has taken a drastic leap. In April, the FDA demanded that Juul submit documents on its marketing and research. A group of senators sent a letter asking Juul to stop using flavors and designs
that appeal to children and there are now three lawsuits alleging that Juul
contains too much nicotine. In response, to the concerns the makers of Juul
have pledged thirty million dollars to combat underage use. Merchandise and
marketing materials now have big warning labels on them and the company is
developing lower nicotine pods. The trouble is there's still a lot we don't
know about the long-term health impacts of e-cigarettes.

Juul, like other
e-cigarettes might have set out to design a solution to a public health
problem, but in a lot of ways their product has created a new one..

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