Juul suspends brick-and-mortar sales, social media, but the worst is yet to come

Rumors began circulating in both mainstream and social media last Friday that the nation’s top-selling vapor company Juul was planning to stop selling its products in retail stores.  On Tuesday, the rumors were substantiated by an action plan authored by CEO Kevin Burns and posted on the company website.  Effective immediately, certain Juul products will be pulled from the store shelves of some 90,000 brick-and-mortar establishments nationwide.

“We launched flavors like Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber as effective tools to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes, and we do not sell flavors like Gummy Bear or Cotton Candy, which are clearly targeted to kids.
However, we are sensitive to the concern articulated by Commissioner Gottlieb that “[f]lavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal,” and understand that products that appeal to adults also may appeal to youth.
As of this morning, we stopped accepting retail orders for our Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber JUUL pods to the over 90,000 retail stores that sell our product, including traditional tobacco retailers (e.g., convenience stores) and specialty vape shops.”

Related Article:  FDA raids Juul offices; seizes thousands of documents on kid-friendly marketing

The flavored e-cigarette retailer also announced the elimination of its social media accounts.  However, Juul further claims that about 99 percent of all Juul related advertisements posted on social media comes from third-party vendors.  Therefore, in an effort to assist the FDA will teen vaping prevention, Juul states its commitment to policing these vendors’ marketing tactics and “attacking” or removing any suspiciously kid-appealing ads.

“We are attacking the presence of JUUL Labs on social media in two ways – eliminating our own social media accounts and continuing to monitor and remove inappropriate material from third-party accounts.”

Website sales will continue but with a stronger emphasis on age identification through a third-party vendor.  Potential customers must submit their name, date of birth, permanent address, as well as the last four digits of their social security number. 

But the changes don’t stop there.  Juul is also planning to build upon these age verification processes in the coming weeks to include two-factor authentication and photo identification requirements.

“By year’s end, our age verification system will include additional protections, such as two-factor authentication, which verifies a user’s identity through their phone number, and then requires a code sent to that phone to create an account. We will also add a real-time photo requirement to match a user’s face against an uploaded I.D.”

Juuls announcement comes in response to a series of FDA inquiries from this summer which seem to target Juul most specifically for poor marketing practices designed to entice underage consumers.  The FDA allegations are allegedly supported by new in-house data indicating a 70% rise in teen vaping in the past 12-months.  Coincidentally, Juul holds about 70 percent of the total market share in the United States. 

What does Juul’s move mean for the rest of the vaping industry?

As of the Tuesday press release, Juul is only banning the four key flavors of pods that seem to have drawn the immediate and unrelenting ire of the FDA:  Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber.  The vaping giant still plans to continue selling mint and menthol flavors in convenience stores and gas stations, perhaps so that their customers are less tempted to switch back to smoking conventional cigarettes.

Related Article:  JUUL joins Altria by stopping sales of fruity vapes in brick-and-mortar venues

However, menthol lovers – vaping, combustible smokers, or otherwise – may very soon be out of luck entirely.  Additional rumors are swirling online that the FDA plans to ban menthol tobacco products like Salem and Kool any day now.  And if menthol cigarettes and snuffs are prohibited by the FDA, the chances of menthol-flavored vapes also being included in the ban are almost certain.   

Another almost imminent change that vaping enthusiasts will probably be very soon be encountering is the demand for all online vape commerce sites to mimic the more advanced age verification processes of the Juul corporation.  If Juul is demanding the last four digits of social security numbers and photo identification, then the FDA might consider making this a new federal regulation, as well.

Any way you slice it, vaping in America is about to become a whole lot more difficult and infinitely more frustrating.   The temptation to transition back to smoking will be overwhelming for millions of vaping Americans.  Or was that the goal of the FDA all along?

Related Article:  Are FDA-required biometric vaporizers the next frontier in vaping?

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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