Juul Laboratories recently settled upon a multi-state agreement with 33 U.S. states and Puerto Rico regarding their marketing practices targeting minors. Per Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, the lead state representative spearheading the issue: “They relentlessly marketed vaping products to underage youth.” The implications of the agreement are tantamount to utter financial decimation for the vaping giant, having been barred from depicting people under 35 in its marketing, product placements in film and television, advertising on billboards and social media, selling Juul-branded merchandise, and funding education programs in schools. Juul has tried to deny any potential wrongdoing in their marketing practices, claiming that they had “voluntarily” ceased all practices now banned under the new ruling, which stems from an initial investigation started in 2020.
This settlement comes on the heels of a particularly lackluster series of litigious decisions against Juul, who has already paid out a total of $87 million to four different states, including Louisiana, Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina, since the start of 2021. Even more devastating for Juul was the FDA’s June ruling earlier this year, ordering the company to cease all sales within the United States on account of the company’s disproportionate role in the rise in youth vaping. While their products are still being sold in stores today due to an appeal being filed against the FDA, Juul’s fall from grace has been nothing short of poetic. Juul’s 2018 valuation as a $38 billion dollar company now appears to be nothing more than vapor in the air, as the company’s apocalyptic public relations nightmare has now caused the company’s value to drop all the way to $1.3 billion dollars today. In a case of friendly fire in the nicotine market, Marlboro manufacturer Altria Inc. has slashed its investment into Juul by a whopping 70 percent, dropping from $12.8 billion all the way down to $450 million. More concerningly for Juul, however, their now reduced valuation allows Altria to contractually exit their pre-existing non-compete clause, opening the door for them to usher in a new, equally harmful, and more monetizable brand of vaporizers free from the headaches they bought into with Juul.
Electronic cigarette usage has emerged as a pressing public health issue for the world’s younger demographic, introducing a generation primed to loathe the sight of combustible tobacco to the wonders of a candy-flavored head rush. While the efficacy of these products as cessation devices for those quitting regular cigarettes is certainly worth hearing out, companies such as Juul cannot look the public in the face and claim that this is what drove their meteoric rise to public infamy. Their path to a $38 billion dollar empire was built on the coughing and convulsing bodies of their adolescent victims, both informed and uninformed alike. However, as convenient as it would be to believe that regulatory measures toppling Juul’s vaping monopoly will lead to a significant reduction in the harm caused to those who partake, the damage is already done. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, there was a 10 percent increase in adolescents using e-cigarettes between 2017 and 2018 alone, with approximately 1.3 million teenagers who now must bear the burden of addiction that public health workers in this country had fought so diligently to eliminate.
Ultimately, nature abhors a vacuum, and even if Juul’s house of cards comes crashing down upon itself, the market will adapt and those who bought into the nicotine lifestyle will just transition to the next best thing. Unfortunately, Pandora’s Box of nicotine has already been opened, and whether Juul goes down or not, the victims of the corporation’s marketing practices will bear a burden equal in severity to the $438.5 billion Juul must pay to finance its mistakes.