As if they haven't already done enough to bring down the wrath of anti-vaping crusaders on the e-cigarette world, now JUUL is catching flack for a new series of poorly timed television ads. At least the campaign, entitled "Make the Switch," features smokers that are clearly adults of legal smoking age. However, it's the claim itself that has critics in a tizzy.
"Making the switch" has long been a vaping industry euphemism for "quitting smoking by switching to an electronic cigarette." The reason for the couched language is that making any claim that electronic cigarettes might actually be useful for quitting smoking is considered advertising them as a "smoking cessation device." And all smoking cessation devices are regulated by the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and have to be approved by the FDA.
As of today, there are no electronic cigarettes that the FDA has approved as smoking cessation devices. That hallowed ground is reserved for nicotine gums and patches and other contraptions that giant pharmaceutical companies have paid millions of dollars to get approved--and they don't want anyone else getting to make the same claim even if it's true.
In fact, this same "smoking cessation device" issue nearly killed the electronic cigarette way back in September of 2008. That's when the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release calling for e-cig makers to quit saying vaping helps people quit smoking.
The WHO "does not consider it to be a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit," the press release griped. "Indeed, as far as WHO is aware, no rigorous, peer-reviewed studies have been conducted showing that the electronic cigarette is a safe and effective nicotine replacement therapy."
Two months later, taking its cue from the WHO, the FDA followed suit and rejected an application from GreenCig for it's vaping device on the grounds that the application was for a new drug.
By early 2009, the FDA began seizing shipments of e-cigs entering the U.S. from China, the birthplace of the new invention. The FDA cited the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act as grounds for the seizures, claiming the vape devices were really incorrectly labeled drug delivery devices and that vape juice was actually medication.
As you might imagine, litigation ensued. Several e-cig companies sued the FDA and, in December of 2010, won. Despite this, the FDA continued to seize shipments of vape products in defiance of the court order until another e-cig company filed a second lawsuit to try to force the FDA to desist.
The whole thing is obviously stupid since everyone knows that people are, in fact, "switching" to vaping in order to get off cigarettes. Public health agencies in England and New Zealand even take out advertising space to publicly encourage smokers to use e-cigs for just this purpose. But here in the United States, unless a company spends millions of dollars and navigates the hurdles put forth by the FDA, everyone has to pretend that isn't happening.
In response to all the eyebrow raising over the "Make the Switch" T.V. ads, JUUL twisted itself into logical pretzels trying to justify the campaign.
"It's a switching product," they emphasized, "not intended to be used as cessation products, including for the cure or treatment of nicotine addiction." Uh huh. Sure, a "switching" product.
On the other hand, since the FDA has chosen to basically deem e-cigs to be another tobacco product more or less the same as combustible cigarettes, maybe switching really shouldn't be seen as "quitting!"
Part of the problem with the T.V. ads seems to have been the shock value of simply seeing an ad for a product that contains nicotine on television. That hasn't happened in a long, long time, not since the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act put the kibosh on television advertising for tobacco companies on April 1, 1970. Because of the way the Act defines a cigarette, electronic cigarettes can still legally be advertised, at least for now.
"Probably about 70 or 80 percent of people alive today in America have probably never seen a tobacco ad on television," observed Dr. Stanton Glantz, Director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
Shocking those people with the sudden reemergence of a tobacco related commercial on their television screens was certainly no way for JUUL to quietly stay out of the spotlight while things calmed down after the recent threats from the FDA to banish all vape juice flavors.
Of course, maybe staying out of the spotlight never was their intention. In a presentation given to Consumer Analysts Group of New York, the Chair and CEO of Altria, owner of both the Marlboro cigarette brand as well as a 35% stake in JUUL, made it clear where Altria and JUUL stood. They intend to:
“Encourage FDA to take industry-wide action by banning retail and vape store sales of all non-traditional flavors until the youth issue is otherwise addressed, such as by the use of advanced age verification technology or premarket authorization.”
If Altria and JUUL were genuinely concerned about addressing "the youth issue," instead of pushing to take flavors away from every adult vapor in the country, perhaps they would be better advised to take a look at this graphic produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Seems like the CDC thinks that advertising--such as a certain recent series of television ads about "Making the Switch"--is a top cause of youth vaping.
The true motive for JUUL's support of a flavor ban seems to be that JUUL is hoping the FDA will do it's dirty work for it by decimating the small businesses in the vaping market so that only the biggest players, primarily JUUL which already owns a 74.6% market share, are left standing. Flavors could then be allowed back into the market, Altria says, after the "youth issue" is addressed...a problem that JUUL itself is largely responsible for.