Why is it that, through the evolution of the vaping industry with a diverse range of customization options, we see time and again that underage and/or unlawful consumers looking to provide e-cigarettes to minors sway toward pod-based systems?
When I was in high school, vaping was just starting to take off, which meant that you had a choice of pen vapes or drippers with little in between for years. However, around 2016, vape manufacturing companies started what was essentially an arms race, but instead of guns, they were coming up with new and improved device designs. Things got really radical. Things got really stupid. But somewhere in that mix, the pod system emerged.
The first evidence I saw of younger audiences displaying interest in vaping actually came from one of my former teachers on Facebook. Last year, he posted a picture of a sign he had hung on the bathroom door in my old high school. The sign outlined how students were abusing the gender neutral bathroom by hiding and vaping inside the stalls, among other things that high schoolers want to keep away from teachers. What caught my attention was that my former teacher, who was probably in his late thirties and far from a vaper, used the word “Juuling”, referring to a popular vape pod system, the Juul. What kind of branding is that? If Juuling has become a verb that 35-40 year old high school drama teachers are familiar with, that’s some impressive, and concerning brand awareness.
Soon after, I noticed Juul memes appearing everywhere. Even if I simply entered the product name “Juul” into YouTube, the first page of results had at least 10 noticeably underage people on the thumbnail of their self-uploaded videos promoting Juul culture, if not at least the irony and awkward meme-ing of it all. I find myself extremely curious as to why teens across North America have such a fascination with pods, a more expensive alternative than traditional vape systems.
The reasons are likely related to the extreme simplicity of the device, as well as the savage boom that the Juul brand had with their great work in online and in-store advertising. Another factor could be pods’ high levels of nicotine, which would create a major headrush for underage smokers, nevermind non-smokers. Before the days of the Juul, if somebody wanted e-liquid with a high level of nicotine they either went to a store that sold it, ordered it online, or bought their own nicotine and mixed juice themselves. And this is very difficult to do when you’re not allowed to get your hands on everything required.
Obviously, there will forever be ambiguity as to how any restricted product finds its way from a licensed retailer into the hands of a minor. Still, the underage crowd’s preference for the Juul specifically is what truly amazes me, and I hope to see it fade in the future. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice simplicity to keep products out of underage hands. Pod vapes are a fantastic solution for adult smokers looking to quit. It’s such a shame that we have devices like these designed to help end the consumption of more harmful counterparts and yet, somehow somebody finds a way to cause harm with them.
Introducing e-cigarettes to a minor who smokes is ill-advised due to outright illegality, regardless of what one individual might feel is best for the underage person’s health. The introduction of e-cigarettes to a non-smoker is just inexcusable, in my opinion. Unfortunately the search for a culprit in these circumstances is so varied with a multitude of platforms and individuals to blame, but at the end of the day, it is the user’s choice to use or continue to use these products. In the case of exposing a non-smoker to 50–60 milligrams of nicotine, you’re not exactly looking at a low likelihood of addiction for that user. There is no surefire way to prevent trends like this from happening, but in the meantime, we can take note of the impact that PAX Labs (the manufacturer of the Juul) has had. Perhaps this case of branding success is an anomaly, but if we are ever going to prevent minors from having access to restricted products, we must understand the impact of marketing tactics on youth when dealing with adult-only industries.