US regulators' war on vaping sees fall of Juul but rise of Puff Bar

A ban on flavoured cartridges led to a sharp decline in popular Juul products – just as disposable vapes rose in popularity

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A ban on flavoured vapes led to a fall in the number of young Americans taking up e-cigarette smoking in 2020, though competitors selling disposables dodged the restriction and saw a boost in sales.

At the US Virtual E-Cigarette summit last week, delegates heard Juul's sales slumped by 18 per cent last year.

That followed a Food and Drug Administration ban in January 2020 on all flavours except menthol and traditional nicotine – which are not popular among young vapers.

The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan studied the impact of the ban on young consumers.

Something we definitely know for sure is they're not harmless, they do have some potential for harm

“Flavourings play a role in attracting children towards tobacco products,” said Prof Richard Miech, lead investigator at the institute, at the event.

“We noticed the growth of e-cigarette use in youths hit the brakes in 2020. Teen use of Juul declined from 2019-20 at a record rate."

The decline followed a 100 per cent increase in use from 2017-2018 among 10th and 12th grade pupils.

Juul voluntarily removed all flavours in the US two years ago. The FDA forced other manufacturers to do the same.

The 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey on e-cigarette use showed just under 20 per cent of all American high school pupils use e-cigarettes.

Juul, whose largest investor is Marlboro owner Altria Group, has faced a series of lawsuits alleging it marketed its products specifically at teenagers, and even bought slots on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

Its sales and market share have fallen significantly since and it halved its 2,000 strong workforce last year, according to reports.

“This is the first national evidence that reduced flavourings of e-cigarette products like Juul cuts the numbers of young people using them," Prof Miech said.

But Juul's decline was offset by an 18 per cent increase in the use of other brands that continued to sell flavoured disposable e-cigarettes.

In 2020, Puff Bar became the third most used e-cigarette brand among teenagers.

Vape makers dodge rules with 'tobacco-free' nicotine

Puff Bar has so far defied the FDA ruling – first because the rules did not cover disposable e-cigarettes, and later by introducing "tobacco-free nicotine".

The survey also found the use of other cartridge-based products declined or levelled off.

"In summary, after two years of record increases, overall teen use of e-cigarette use plateaued in 2020," Prof Miech said.

The Truth Initiative anti-tobacco group highlighted a pair of reports published in September by the FDA and Centres for Disease Control showing that though youth e-cigarette use decreased in a “meaningful” way, it remains at epidemic levels.

"The decline in youth e-cigarette use is good news but the deeper story is quite troubling," the group said.

“We still have millions of kids vaping and at risk of addiction and becoming tobacco consumers for life.”

It called for tougher federal policies to close the loopholes that allow menthol and flavoured disposables.

E-cigarette proponents often say they are less damaging than regular cigarettes, but reports last year highlighted the risks. 

Kevin Welding, associate director for Johns Hopkins University's Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the health impact of e-smoking "is a very hotly debated topic amongst public health researchers".

Something "we definitely know for sure is they're not harmless, they do have some potential for harm," he told The National.

The prohibition of e-cigarette sales in the UAE was lifted in April 2019, with no restrictions on flavoured cartridges.

But anyone found vaping or using an e-cigarette in unauthorised areas or no-smoking zones can be fined up to Dh2,000 ($544).

Dubai will host the region’s largest vaping and e-cigarette exhibition at the World Trade Centre from September 19 to 21.