Shortly after 9:32 a.m. this morning, a collective wail rose up from Juul-lovers throughout America but especially on a block in Bed-Stuy, from me, when this news hit our screens:
"RED ALERT," a friend of mine and fellow Juuler, texted our group chat, full of other Juulers. "We're all gonna be addicted to chaw by November," another wrote.
The Wall Street Journal story comes as a bit of a surprise, as the Food and Drug Administration has already approved tobacco-flavored vaping products sold by other companies, such as R.J. Reynolds's Vuse e-cig. "Industry observers," the WSJ article noted, "had expected Juul to receive similar clearance."
What explains the discrepancy, then? Perhaps the years-long panic over Juuling teenagers is to blame. I'll be the first to say that no young person should ever pick up vaping. Like most chemical addictions, a nicotine habit is, on top of being expensive, really not fun! And the steps that states as well as the FDA have taken in recent years to cut down on youth vaping, most notably bans on flavored vapes, appear to be working—in 2020, the FDA reported that about one out of five high schoolers vaped, down from a high of about 25 percent in 2019. The FDA's 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that even fewer high schoolers (13.4 percent) currently have a vaping habit. (Perhaps they have also realized, as many adults like myself know all too well, that vaping makes you look like a total loser.)
But if Juul is under more scrutiny than other e-cig brands due to its previous association with teen vaping, the teens themselves have seemingly moved on. The FDA's 2021 survey also had this relevant finding—according to the agency's own data, most teen vapers don't even prefer Juul anymore.
More, from the FDA's 2021 Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey:
Among students who currently used e-cigarettes, Puff Bar was the most commonly reported usual brand (26.8%, 520,000), followed by Vuse (10.5%, 200,000), SMOK (8.6%, 160,000), JUUL (6.8%, 130,000), and Suorin (2.1%, 40,000).
Let me just summarize the situation here: the FDA appears poised to ban Juul devices out of what I suspect are lingering concerns over teen Juuling, even though the teens themselves are not only vaping less, but don't even like Juul all that much anymore, and in fact use a brand that the FDA actually approved—Vuse—even more!
Make all of this make sense! After I asked the FDA whether Juul products will in fact be taken off the market, and why, a spokesperson wrote back, "Unfortunately, I can't provide any information at this time, however I will be sure to keep you informed if that changes."
But you know who still desperately loves and unfortunately needs their Juuls? Adult former smokers like myself, who have relied on our beloved devices to not smoke cigarettes, a public health win that the FDA itself has acknowledged. We know we look like idiots sucking on a USB drive, we know that vaping's long-term effects are still somewhat unknown, but we also know that cigarettes will definitely kill us and would prefer to not smoke them anymore, thank you very much.
Shouldn't we be encouraged in our quest for, if not optimal health, at least better health, rather than punished? We've already lost mango and mint-flavored pods and begrudgingly switched over to menthol, only to have those also banned. (Shoutout to my local bodega owner, who sells me my menthol-flavored pods, sourced from who knows where, at only a slight markup.)
C'mon, FDA, it's not too late to change your mind! Please don't force me to take my SMOK X-Priv out of retirement, or, even worse, in a moment of abject weakness and desperation, eye the racks of cigarettes that are somehow still absolutely legal to buy and sell, and think to myself, why not?