The same action plan that contained details of Juul’s voluntary restrictions also announced the company’s retreat from social media. As Jackler notes, though, the brand’s own Instagram presence isn’t that important to its popularity anymore. Teens promote the product themselves, on their own accounts, for fun. “All these young people are effectively brand ambassadors,” he says. “So, sure, [Juul will] take down Instagram now that they have a mature market and are solid in their user base.” The company has promised to monitor its social-media mentions and report users doing anything obviously unsafe or illegal, but since Juul can only use publicly available information and the platform’s standard procedures to evaluate posts, its power to moderate is limited.
Read: Some e-cigarette flavors may be more harmful than others.
Juul received initial public praise for launching a youth tobacco-prevention curriculum that it would contract out to American high schools. Once researchers, including Halpern-Felsher, analyzed the specifics, though, they found that it lacked information about the dangers of Juul specifically. Also, according to The Daily Beast, the program required high schools to allow Juul employees to observe sessions and submit survey data on its teen participants to the company. In the name of prevention, the e-cigarette maker would get an up-close look at thousands of its most ardent fans. (Once the particulars were clear, response to the program was so negative that Juul now says it is no longer shopping the curriculum to schools.)
According to Jackler, many students still don’t realize that what they’re addicted to is the same substance that comes from cigarettes. “Research shows that over 60 percent of teenagers don’t know that nicotine is in Juul,” he says. “They just know it’s this wonderfully flavored thing. It gives them a buzz when they use it.”
I asked Juul what it was doing to communicate this to teens more effectively. Ted Kwong, a company representative, told me, “We package our product in compliance with FDA regulations, including a prominent nicotine warning label.” Beyond the in-school curriculum itself, which would have reached only kids whose schools opted in, Juul makes no efforts I could find to speak directly to teens about its high nicotine content and the danger that nicotine addiction can pose to the highly susceptible brains of teens. When I asked Kwong whether I had missed anything, he told me, “We have launched a print, radio, and digital campaign—‘What Parents Should Know About Juul’—highlighting adult-smoker testimonials to reinforce our target consumer.” But the Juul’s facility as a smoking-cessation device is a positive message about the product aimed at adults, not explicit information about nicotine for minors.
Even in comparison with other, similar American products, Juul’s nicotine content is quite high. “The legacy of Juul is that it’s reset the level of nicotine across the vapor industry, from 1 to 2 percent to up to 6 percent and more,” Jackler told me. Most Juul pods contain the equivalent of almost two packs of cigarettes. (Two flavors have a lower, 3 percent option.) Juul has not announced any plans to lower the nicotine content in its American offerings.