The e-cigarette company Juul Labs has applied for US approval to sell an 'age verification' vape in the United States.
According to a Juul spokesperson, to verify the age of a vape user, the device will pair with an app on a smartphone. Customers can either upload a government ID or a selfie in real time, or enter personal information to allow a third party database to verify their identities.
The unique Pod ID chips within the Juul device are also capable of detecting counterfeit cartridges manufactured by other companies. Many of these have flooded markets with illegal fruity flavorings that appeal to children.
According to the company, the mission of the platform is to encourage adult smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes while restricting access to underage users.
In the United States, you must be 21 years old to buy e-cigarettes.
In a press release, Juul's Chief Regulation Officer Joe Murillo stated that the company was looking forward to working with FDA during the entire review process as it pursued this important harm reduction opportunity.
Juul Labs is still deciding on the name of their new product to be sold in the US if it's approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. It's known as the JUUL2 in the UK and Canada where it is already available.
Juul, which advertises itself as an alternative nicotine-containing product, publicly recommends adults to vape as a substitute for combustible tobacco cigarettes.
Juul's history on US markets is not good.
Robin Koval is the CEO of Truth Initiative. They are the organizers of America's largest youth vaping campaign. This is not a firm that tells the truth.
Juul Labs settled more than 10,000 cases filed by plaintiffs, since the vaping devices first gained popularity in 2016. Some claim that the company misled or failed to warn customers about the dangers of their products. In April, the e-cigarette manufacturer agreed to pay $462m to six US states, Washington, DC, and other jurisdictions after a lawsuit claimed that Juul Labs had promoted its products directly to high school students. Juul Labs agreed to pay a total of more than $1 billion through its legal settlements.
Juul controlled over 70% of the US electronic cigarette market when it peaked in late 2018. According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, in the same year 27% of high-school students and 7.2% middle-school students reported using tobacco one or more days per month.
Juul has become less popular among young people. In the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey, when asked which e-cigarette brand they had used in the last 30 days, youth respondents answered Puff Bar the most often (29.7%), then Vuse (23.6%), and finally Juul (22%), the first two of which were disposable vaping devices.
Juul has suspended the marketing of all flavors except tobacco and menthol in 2019.
The FDA has banned Juul devices in the US, even with limited flavors. This was after Juul submitted applications to the FDA seeking marketing authorization. The FDA found that there was not enough evidence in the toxicological profile for the vaporizers that would prove marketing these products would be beneficial to public health.
The FDA has put the ban on hold until Juul Labs files an appeal.
What we know so far about Juul's recent filing
Juul Labs filed its latest application with the FDA on 19 July, as required by all ecigarette manufacturers before their product could be legally marketed and sold in the United States. This first application only concerns one flavor: Virginia Tobacco. It has a nicotine content of 18mg per mL.
Juul's platform is equipped with age verification, but the company doesn't intend to lock their new pods prior to use. Virginia Tobacco pods, for example, will not be automatically locked. A spokesperson for Juul stated that this could cause 'friction for adult smokers' who are most likely to be targeted by the tobacco flavor.
A Juul spokesperson told CNN that if you are an adult smoker, buying a cigarette is easy. If you put another barrier in front of the product, it creates friction.
Juul's vaping device can tell the difference between a Virginia Tobacco and menthol pod using its new Pod ID feature. According to the spokesperson, it could require age verification in order to activate the latter.
Juul is currently researching other flavors that combine tobacco, menthol and fruity tones in order to submit them to the FDA. Juul sells Autumn Tobacco, a flavor that contains 'tangy apples notes', according to its UK website.
According to a nonprofit CEO, regulating e-cigarettes would be a 'Whac a mole' for the FDA.
The FDA has only approved 23 specific ecigarette products to date, and they are all tobacco-flavored.
According to the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 2,5 million US middle school and high school students reported using e-cigarettes last year. Nearly 85% of US youth consume products that are fruity, sweet or other flavors, even though they are illegal.
Koval, of Truth Initiative, said that the tobacco industry "floods" the market with so many products that the FDA cannot keep up.
Koval explained that the FDA, as well as those of us trying to promote healthy behaviors among young people, are playing a game similar to Whac-aMole. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the total number of brands of ecigarettes increased 46.2% from January 2020 to December 2022. This is from 184 to 269.
Juul has to prove that its new platform does not worsen the youth vaping epidemic by contributing to the public health crisis caused by adult smoking.
Kirk Phelps, Chief Product Officer at Juul, said: 'This is just the beginning. New tech will be developed and refined to eliminate combustible tobacco and combat the use of underage smokers in the US and abroad.