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The Safe Alternative to Cigarettes Backfires: The Vaping Crisis Preview

E-cigarettes were launched in the United States in 2007 as a healthy alternative to cigarettes. Companies marketing e-cigarettes promoted the health benefits versus traditional cigarettes because they contained fewer chemicals and help smokers quit cigarette smoking. E-cigarettes associated with vaping have created a national health crisis. Vaping involves inhaling vapor from a liquid heated in an electronic device. There have been hundreds of cases of lung disease associated with vaping. Juul is reorganizing its company leadership based on a proposed ban of flavored e-cigarettes, which make up 80 percent of sales. Juul’s CEO was replaced in late September citing concerns over teen use of e-cigarettes. According to a national youth tobacco study, more than 3.5 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes.

Juul is the leading manufacturer of e-cigarettes and claims that it does not target teens and attempts to stop youth vaping. But, vaping devices are easily acquired by teens and there are posts on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media that provide easy access to vaping information. In terms of market segmentation, Juul has used celebrities and influencers to persuade consumers, including teenagers, to use Juul products. Juul even gives discount coupons to celebrities and influencers to encourage them to promote its products. Juul claims it has stopped all advertising of e-cigarettes, but opposes the potential ban on flavored e-cigarettes that are especially attractive to teens. Marketers need to be aware of appropriate populations to target with their advertising and promotion. Many teens do not know that nicotine is addictive and that there is a high probability that teen e-cigarette smokers will smoke cigarettes later in life. Nicotine is especially harmful to teens and can damage brain development. Targeting an underage market with a highly attractive and addictive product would be like targeting other illegal products to teens (like alcohol and firearms).

But, U.S. health officials are seeking investigations into the lung ailments that appear to be associated with vaping and are urging adults to stop vaping. Companies operating in regulated industries have an increased responsibility to understand the impact of their product on a user's health. In this case, there have been many deaths associated with vaping. The CEO of Juul was terminated because the company had not taken stronger actions to stop underage vaping. Juul's marketing efforts (using advertising and influencers) was designed to target, in part, the youth market.

Normally, we assume the legal and regulatory community will act to protect consumers. There has been significant concern that the Food and Drug Administration is reacting too slowly to this crisis. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have banned the sale of all vaping products for four months.

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