Special Briefing: Are E-Cigarettes Living on Borrowed Time?

Special Briefing: Are E-Cigarettes Living on Borrowed Time?

Why you should care

Juul just got a cash infusion. But its problems are multiplying too.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

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San Francisco (Juul’s home city) recently opted to ban vaping altogether, but Juul’s now spending more than $4 million to support a November ballot measure to overturn that legislation.

Source Shutterstock

What happened? E-cigarette giant Juul got good news and bad news this week. The company raised another $325 million, demonstrating that investors still believe in its power to push vaping. But Juul (along with big tobacco giant Philip Morris) is now being sued by a teen who blames his health problems on Juul and who’s taking them to court for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by allegedly marketing their products to children.

Why does it matter? The $325 million is expected to bolster Juul’s business outside the United States, which is becoming increasingly inhospitable to e-cigarette companies. But e-cigarettes aren’t abandoning the U.S. market just yet: San Francisco (Juul’s home city) recently opted to ban vaping altogether, but Juul’s now spending more than $4 million to support a November ballot measure to overturn that legislation.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

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1 in 5 U.S. high school students say they currently vape, and those numbers are rising rapidly.

Source Getty Images

The kids are alright. Or are they? 1 in 5 U.S. high school students say they currently vape, and those numbers are rising rapidly — by 78 percent from 2017 to 2018 — even though sales are banned to anyone under 18. While e-cigarette proponents say they’re a way for adults to quit smoking, that’s clearly not the only thing that’s happening, and many worry that the gateway goes both ways and that teens who vape may be more likely to take up traditional cigarettes.

But even if they don’t. The health effects of vaping are coming under increasing scrutiny, and it doesn’t look good. The CDC announced over the weekend that it’s investigating 94 cases of severe lung illnesses across 14 states that could be linked to vaping. Some theories put forth for the sudden emergence of symptoms include that they’d been previously mistaken for other diseases, or that people are purchasing faulty or dubious vaping products. E-cigarettes have also been linked to seizures, though the health effects are still poorly understood.

Adults only. Juul CEO Kevin Burns apologized last month to the parents of kids using e-cigarettes, saying the company’s products — which accounted for more than three-quarters of the U.S. e-cigarette market at the end of last year — are only intended for adults. “I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to [children],” he said. The company had previously pulled some sweet flavors and deleted social media posts to fight allegations that it was, in fact, marketing to young people.

Big dog. While Juul is 35 percent owned by Marlboro cigarette manufacturer Altria, e-cigarettes don’t have to follow the same rules as regular tobacco products when it comes to advertising. But more regulation is in the works: Last week, a vaping industry group filed suit against the FDA hoping to delay the deadline that e-cigarettes have to be submitted to the agency for approval, claiming it would bankrupt small vape companies.

WHAT TO READ

Young Students Lured to Vape Are Creating a ‘Juuling’ Epidemic, by Bonnie Halpern-Felsher in the Miami Herald

“Many of the more than 15,000 unique e-cigarette flavors have silly names, such as Honey Doo Doo, Booger Sugar and Barney Pebbles — names not exactly aimed at an adult audience.”

The FDA’s Challenge on E-Cigs, by Scott Gottlieb in the Wall Street Journal

“Not all e-cigs are equal. Policies that account for the different risks and patterns of use are our best chance to help adults quit smoking while keeping kids from picking up a deadly addiction.”

WHAT TO WATCH

We Tried to Quit the Juul in Seven Days

“My brain woke me up at 5 a.m. ‘cause I was like ‘yo, dude, where’s that nicotine?’ “

Watch on BuzzFeed on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Big brother is smoking. This month, Juul launched an app-linked e-cigarette for its U.K. users — one that’s expected to eventually be available stateside. The C1 can track smoking habits and requires a background check — which, the company says, will prevent teens from smoking. But critics point out that the underaged could simply use a traditional e-cigarette to avoid the C1’s tracking features.

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