When will Juul get their act together?
Mason Bennett, Staff Writer
Following the extensive investigation and scrutiny on Juul from the FDA, the underbelly of Big Tobacco is taking first steps to ensure their product reaches the correct audience.
On April 11, Juul Labs implemented a new technological system for its “Track & Trace” program, which utilizes the serial numbers on the back of the devices to identify not only exactly how Juul devices end up in minors hands, but a minimum value for how many teens are using their products. With the Track & Trace program, Juul is asking for help from parents, teachers and law enforcement to access the Juul Report website once they confiscate a device from a minor, in which they will input the serial number into the database. Each time a new device is registered in the system, Juul will open an investigation to identify the exact location it was sold. They do concede, however, that it isn’t always the fault of the seller in regards to underage sales. While in some instances, it may be an issue with a retail store knowingly selling to minors, in others, it may be a case of “social sourcing,” in which someone over 21 buys several devices and pods to then sell to minors. Juul plans to then take further steps in investigating, such as talking to a store manager about the issue. Additionally, this will likely enforce the said company’s secret shopper program where an increase in sale or distribution is observed, again to identify the root of the problem. Juul has been stressing that their Track & Trace program only handles with the serial number on the devices themselves, and the process does not involve any unwanted release of personal information.
As of now, the report portal is open to everyone; anyone who confiscates a Juul can report it through the website with the device serial number. “It’s important to note that the program is an opportunity for us to learn how the technology is working and optimize the technology,” said Juul Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould. “It’s not just at the retailer level. It’s a whole process through the supply chain to track that device and find out if everyone who is supposed to be scanning it is scanning it, and the software that we’ve created to track that serial number through the supply chain to the retail store is working. The only way we’re going to know that is when someone puts in the serial number and we see if we have all the data we need to track it.” According to Gould, every device in production will be trackable in the coming weeks, if not days.
Beyond the additions to their Track & Trace program, Juul has removed non-tobacco and non-menthol flavored pods from all retail stores, whilst enhancing their own purchasing system online to ensure buyers are 21 or older and not buying in bulk. Furthermore, Juul Labs claim to be entirely committed to build technology-based solutions to prevent youth’s usage of the product, taking an overhaul in focus to address this issue. Co-founder of Juul, James Monsees, told TechCrunch that the company is working on incorporating Bluetooth capabilities in their products, essentially making the simple smoking device as smart as a cellphone, further preventing the underage use of Juul. With that said, the Track & Trace program and its newest editions is the first real step taken by the biggest e-cig company to curb underage consumption, albeit an expensive one. Juul has spent more than 30 million dollars thus far to update its packaging and integrate the necessary software systems. With all of these supposedly next-gen inventions Juul is flaunting, is it enough to curb underage smokers for good? Can we trust the largest e-cig company on the market with the FDA breathing down their neck?
The answer is, of course not. From a company standpoint, Juul continues to receive flack for improper labeling of their packages, often undermining the serious health effects from smoking and nicotine consumption. The parents of a 14-year-old in Florida are suing Juul for misrepresenting their product. The lawsuit addresses not only the young girl’s addiction to Juul because she did not understand its nicotine and addictive potential, but also the seizures she experienced from accidentally swallowing the high concentrations of nicotine found in the pod cartridges. After all, this is the same company that studied marketing tactics Big Tobacco used in the 60’s to specifically target minors and their interests. Juul still isn’t catching any breaks from big health organizations either in regards to their sales to minors. One study from the CDC found that teenagers between 15 and 17 are 16 times more likely to use Juul than any other age group.
Add this all up, and in the end, it’s hard to see the industry being able to police itself. Neither past examples of other tobacco companies or the present self-imposed regulations indicate that this will succeed. While parents can attempt to police their teens, the primary push should come from the federal level. Other than independent bodies, blanket bans and even stricter regulations on different aspects of their product is a sure-fire way to get Juul’s attention. Implementing legislation as simple as requiring proof of identification for every tobacco purchase would decrease underage sales dramatically. Preventing direct shipment of tobacco products to buyer’s homes would also undoubtedly curb private sales of Juul products, forcing underage buyers to enter a retail store for their purchase. Even now — out of those who are involved — few want more regulation from the federal government. Without an ideal world in an ideal situation, any other solution is nothing beyond blowing smoke.