- ‘I’m Sorry’: Juul CEO Apologizes to Parents Amidst Teen Vaping Epidemic
- Though they are small, Juul packs a loaded punch.
- But vape-addicted teens tell a different story.
- But not everyone agrees.
- Juul CEO Kevin Burns apologizes to parents amid teen vaping epidemic
- 'It would always be in my hands'
- How the FDA is getting involved
‘I’m Sorry’: Juul CEO Apologizes to Parents Amidst Teen Vaping Epidemic
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Kevin Burns, the CEO of Juul Labs—the bestselling e-cigarette company in the U.S.—has a message for parents of teens addicted to his company’s products this week: “I’m sorry.”
The San-Francisco start-up launched in 2015, and rapidly became one of the major players in the e-cigarette industry, dominating more than 40% of the market today. The product’s quick rise in popularity prompted The Boston Globeto call it “the most widespread phenomenon you’ve ly never heard of.”
Juul devices don’t look your average cigarette. In fact, to many, they resemble that of a USB flash drive, which is partly why they’ve become so popular among teens. The sleek design fits seamlessly in a closed fist.
Though they are small, Juul packs a loaded punch.
One vapor cartridge contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes or 200 cigarette puffs, according to the advocacy group, The Truth Initiative.
The Food and Drug Administration has declared teen vaping an “epidemic,” citing federal survey data that showed nearly 21 percent of high school students vaped last year.
Studies have found that teens who use e-cigarettes Juul, are more than four times as ly to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes within 18-months, as their peers who do not vape.
As more and more heavy-hitters blame Juul for the teen vaping epidemic, Burns told CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla what he would say to the parents of a child who is addicted to his company’s products.
“First of all, I’d tell them that I’m sorry that their child’s using the product,” said Burns, who joined Juul in late 2017. “It’s not intended for them. I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them. As a parent of a 16-year-old, I’m sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges they’re going through.”
E-cigarettes were originally intended for adults who are trying to quit smoking. The vaporized gadgets provide the nicotine fix, while weaning addicted adults off of tobacco.
One Juul cartridge contains 5 percent nicotine compared to other e-cigarettes in the arena who usually have 1 to 2.4 percent nicotine. Since first coming under fire for their popularity, Juul has made cartridges available containing lower doses at 3%, still higher than the average e-cigarette cartridge.
The problem is that the products have become insanely popular among teens who believe that vaping is “harmless” because it’s not the same as smoking tobacco cigarettes.
But vape-addicted teens tell a different story.
I sat down with two young adults—a boy and a girl who asked to remain nameless—who told me how vaping has controlled their lives.
Both teens, who now also smoke tobacco cigarettes, said that they notice almost immediately when they’re in “need” of a hit.
“I’ll have days where I’m super irritable,” the young girl told me, “and then I’ll realize, ‘oh, I haven’t vaped today.’”
And the epidemic doesn’t stop at just nicotine-loaded Juul cartridges. A 2018 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that one in eleven middle and high school students surveyed admitted to vaping marijuana.
Juul says its products are meant for adults, not minors. The company supports raising the minimum smoking age to 21 to keep teenagers from buying its e-cigarettes.
In an attempt to keep teens away from their products, Juul has pulled several flavors such as cream, fruit, and mango from store shelves. They’ve also shut down all social media campaigns, turning away from the “lifestyle” branding that first skyrocketed the company in 2015.
Nicotine is an addictive chemical, and evidence suggests that nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood has long-term impacts on brain development.
But not everyone agrees.
“Frankly, we don’t know [the impact of chronic vaping] today,” Burns said. “We have not done the long-term, longitudinal, clinical testing that we need to do.”
Still, Juul is committed to youth prevention. A statement on the company’s website says, “We don’t want anyone who doesn’t smoke or already use nicotine, to use Juul products. We certainly don’t want youth using the product. It is bad for public health, and it is bad for our mission.”
From the beginning, Juul was created to “improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes.”
Juul CEO Kevin Burns apologizes to parents amid teen vaping epidemic
Kevin Burns, CEO of Juul Labs `u0013 the maker of the bestselling e-cigarette in the U.S. and center of federal regulatorsu0019 crackdown into what theyu0019re calling a teen vaping u001cepidemicu001d `u0013 has a message for parents whose children are addicted to his companyu0019s products: u001cIu0019m sorry.u001d
Since launching in 2015, Juul has quickly come to dominate the e-cigarette industry with roughly 40% of the market, becoming such a dominant player thatAltria, the top U.S. cigarette company, invested $12.8 billion for a 35% stake in the San Francisco-based start-up.
But the company has a problem: Its vapes areincredibly popular with teenagers.
TheFood and Drug Administrationhas declared teen vaping an u001cepidemic,u001d citingfederal survey datathat showed nearly 21% of high school students vaped last year. Former FDA CommissionerScott Gottlieband health care advocates blame the surge in teen vaping on Juul.
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CNBCu0019sCarl Quintanillainterviewed Burns for a documentary, u001cVaporized: Americau0019s E-cigarette Addiction,u001d which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. EDT Quintanilla, who toured one of Juulu0019s manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin with Burns, asked him what he would say to a parent with a child who was addicted to Juul.
u001cFirst of all, Iu0019d tell them that Iu0019m sorry that their childu0019s using the product,u001d said Burns, who joined Juul in late 2017. u001cItu0019s not intended for them.
I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them.
As a parent of a 16-year-old, Iu0019m sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges theyu0019re going through.u001d
The company has tried to combat youth use by shutting down its social media accounts and pulling fruity flavors creme and mango from retailers. So far, that hasnu0019t stopped criticism. The companyu0019s hometown ofSan Francisco banned sales of e-cigaretteslast month.
E-cigarettes are being marketed to adults to help them quit smoking while still getting their nicotine fix. But theyu0019ve come under fire in recent months for their growing popularity among teens.
Federal data shows about 3 million U.S. high school students vaped last year.
That is prompting fears e-cigarettes are addicting a new generation of nicotine after decades of cigarette smoking rates plummeting.
'It would always be in my hands'
Pam Debonou0019s daughter Grace picked up a Juul in the summer of 2017. At the time she was 15 and Juul was starting to take off. Debono calls it u001cthe summer of Juul,u001d when she started finding plastic covers everywhere that she u001cdidnu0019t really have a clue what they were.u001d
Grace told CNBC that a friend of hers bought the Juul pods and devices from a gas station. Both girls were 15 at the time. Grace said she would hit her Juul first thing in the morning and would puff on it all day, going through one nicotine pod per day u0013 about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
u001cIt would always be in my hands,u001d she said. u001c, it would always just be with me, you know? And so I would always just, , hit it u0019cause it was just so easy.u001d
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Stanford pediatrics professor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher said her research team found kids are u001cmore addictedu001d to Juul than other products because the nicotine level in Juul pods is u001castronomically high.
u001d Juul pods contain 5% nicotine, whereas other pods before Juulu0019s introduction contained between roughly 1% and 2.4% on average, according to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating tobacco.
The company has since introduced lower dosages with 3% nicotine for some of its flavors.
Juul says its products are meant for adults, not minors Grace. The company supports raising the minimum smoking age to 21 to keep teenagers from buying its e-cigarettes.
Yet Juulu0019s critics point to the companyu0019s initial advertising campaign, which featured bright colors and young looking models, as evidence that Juul fueled the surge in teen vaping. Co-founder Adam Bowen said in retrospect the ads were u001cinappropriate.u001d
u001cWhen we launched Juul, we had a campaign that was arguably too kind of lifestyle-oriented, too flashy,u001d he said. u001cIt lasted less than six months. It was in the early days of the product introduction. We think it had no impact on sales.u001d
How the FDA is getting involved
Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, says the surge in teen vaping caught the FDA by surprise. While at the agency, Gottlieb delayed a key deadline that would have forced e-cigarettes to undergo FDA review by now and could have removed some from the market. He now isnu0019t sure if he made the right decision.
u001cItu0019s a good question [whether the delay was a mistake], and itu0019s a question I get all the time,u001d Gottlieb said. u001cAnd we struggle with it.u001d
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The FDA review process calls for the agency to weigh the net public health benefit u0013 meaning it needs to weigh how many adults will benefit from them versus how many teens might be harmed u0013 when deciding whether to allow products to stay on the market.
In 2017, Gottlieb pushed the deadline to 2022 from 2018. After seeing the surge in teen use this fall, he had a change of heart. One of his last acts before stepping down in April was to move the deadline up by a year.
The courts may force the agency to work even faster. A federal judge agreed with public health groups that sued the FDA for shirking its public duty.
Some say itu0019s too early to judge e-cigarettes because there isnu0019t enough data and they havenu0019t been around long enough to understand the effects of long-term use.
u001cFrankly, we donu0019t know [the impact of chronic vaping] today,u001d Burns, the Juul CEO, said. u001cWe have not done the long-term, longitudinal, clinical testing that we need to do.u001d
Despite the unknowns, some researchers say e-cigarettes could help the U.S.2 34.3 million smokers. Regulators in the U.K. are actively encouraging smokers to give up their cigarettes in favor of e-cigarettes, while the debate in the U.S. proves far more contentious.
u001cVaporized: Americau0019s E-cigarette Addictionu001d airs on CNBC on Monday, July 15, at 10 p.m. EDT.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor.
CNBC is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.