JUUL Suspends U.S. Sales of Non-tobacco, Non-menthol Flavors

Affected Products Make Up Only Small Percentage of Youth Sales, Say Anti-tobacco Groups

October 23, 2019 03:50 pm Chris Crawford

On Oct. 17, JUUL Labs Inc. announced in a news release(newsroom.juul.com) that it was suspending U.S. sales of its non-tobacco, non-menthol-based flavors (mango, crème, fruit and cucumber), pending FDA review of the company's premarket tobacco product applications.

[juul package]

Additionally, the San Francisco-based company pointed to actions it had previously taken under the direction of its new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite:

  • suspending all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the United States;
  • ceasing active support of Proposition C in San Francisco (a campaign JUUL had originally sponsored with the intent of weakening the city's limits on flavored tobacco products; the proposition has since, in effect, been withdrawn); and
  • refraining from lobbying the Trump administration on its draft flavor guidance, saying it would "fully support and comply with the final policy when effective."

The Trump administration announced on Sept. 11 its plan(www.fda.gov) to have the FDA clear the market of non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products, including mint and menthol.

The inclusion of mint and menthol flavors in the administration's plan is important because results of the most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey(www.fda.gov) continue to show that the overwhelming majority of youth e-cigarette users report the use of popular fruit and menthol or mint flavors.

Story Highlights
  • On Oct. 17, JUUL Labs Inc. announced that it was suspending U.S. sales of its non-tobacco, non-menthol-based flavors (mango, crème, fruit and cucumber), pending FDA review.
  • The Trump administration announced on Sept. 11 its plan to have the FDA clear the market of nontobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, including mint- and menthol-flavored products.
  • JUUL's announcement led to quick backlash from anti-tobacco groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.

Reaction to JUUL's Announcement

JUUL's announcement drew immediate backlash from anti-tobacco groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.

In a statement posted the same day,(www.tobaccofreekids.org) Matthew Myers, president of CFTFK, characterized the move as disingenuous. "JUUL knows that 64% of high school e-cigarette users now use mint or menthol flavors, and this number is growing all the time," he said.

"JUUL's announcement today that it is leaving mint and menthol flavors on the market shows that it hasn't changed one bit under its new leadership and isn't serious about preventing youth use," Myers said in the statement. "Even JUUL's announcement is deceptive. JUUL deceptively claims it will only be selling menthol versions in the U.S. and never mentions that it has simply re-categorized the popular mint flavor as menthol."

The Trump administration, Meyers continued, "must stand up to pressure from JUUL and Altria" (Altria Group Inc. is JUUL's top investor and the parent company of Philip Morris USA) and move forward with its plan to ban flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol flavors.

"The White House faces a clear choice: Will they side with JUUL and Altria, or will they keep their promise to America's kids by taking all flavored e-cigarettes off the market, including mint and menthol?" Myers said.

Another statement from Truth Initiative CEO and President Robin Koval(truthinitiative.org) on Oct. 17 said JUUL deserved no congratulations for its announcement.

It's well-known by all tobacco industry stakeholders, she said, "that menthol has been and continues to be the starter flavor of choice for young cigarette users."

"Without question, this is a calculated move by JUUL's new tobacco industry leadership to forestall the Trump administration's promise to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market."

Koval echoed the call for the administration to continue its planned removal of all flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, from the market and to "put an end to the youth e-cigarette epidemic and this giant chemistry experiment on our kids that has put the health of America's young people at great risk."

What an FP Expert Has to Say

Thomas Houston, M.D., of Dublin, Ohio, former chair of the AAFP Commission on Health of the Public and Science and of the Academy's now-dissolved Smoking Cessation Advisory Committee, told AAFP News that the Academy agrees with the administration's plan to eliminate non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes from the market, including mint- and menthol-flavored products -- which the AAFP called "a long-tolerated gateway to nicotine and tobacco addiction" in a Sept. 20 letter to President Donald Trump.(1 page PDF)  

The AAFP supports banning all flavored tobacco products, including flavors in traditional cigarettes and cigars.

Houston pointed out that the flavors JUUL is removing account for only about 10% of products young people use; mint and menthol are much more popular among this population than among older users.

As for the effect of JUUL ceasing its advertising in the United States, along with curbing its use of social media influencers, Houston said this might be a case of too little, too late.

"JUUL is now part of the teen culture, which was the aim, in my opinion, of the type of ads/media presence they created earlier," he said. "The CEO's denials about youth uptake of JUUL were not convincing. I think he knew exactly what his ad staff was doing, and I am sure they were monitoring social media closely. And there are still YouTube videos that glamorize using JUUL, though not as many as a few months ago."

Finally, Houston said the impact of JUUL's promise to not lobby the Trump administration to reverse its position on banning flavored e-cigarettes remains uncertain.

"There are many other e-cigarette groups that want to keep flavored products available," he said. "Internet sales and black-market products are also a worry; regulating or policing their sale will be very hard."

Related AAFP News Coverage
AAFP Hails White House Bid to Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes
Academy Urges FDA to 'Quickly Implement' Plan to Remove Products From Market

(9/27/2019)

USPSTF Draft Recommendation
Offer Interventions to Prevent Tobacco Use in Kids, Teens

(7/19/2019)

Truth Initiative Smoking Imagery Study Sparks Change
(7/17/2019)

More From AAFP
Tobacco: Preventing and Treating Nicotine Dependence and Tobacco Use (Position Paper)

Familydoctor.org: Dangers of Vaping(familydoctor.org)