A federal court sided with health groups in 2019, forcing the FDA to begin enforcing its authorization process for e-cigarette companies. The FDA has given e-cigarette manufacturers until 2020 to apply for authorization or face being forced off the shelves. (That deadline was later pushed back due to Covid.) The Juul had already been on sale for four years, and by then accounted for 75 percent of the e-cigarette market. But his future began to look dim.
Juul now had to turn around. The company, as Jamie Ducharme writes in his 2019 book Big Vape, modeled after a typical San Francisco startup, where people would “skateboard back and forth across concrete office floors and shoot each other with foam Nerf darts.” Many early employees, like founders Monsees and Bowen, had design and marketing backgrounds. Juul now had to adapt to regulatory scrutiny, making extensive reports on its product components, ingredients and health risks in order to gain FDA approval.
The company began hiring people to manage government relations and manage public affairs. It also crippled its own product line, pulling its most popular flavors – such as mango and mixed fruit – from the shelves to leave only menthol, peppermint and tobacco pods. The company’s news announcement quoted then-CEO KC Crosthwaite as pledging to “reset the steam category by earning the trust of society and working collaboratively with regulators, policymakers and stakeholders.”
Many US lawmakers were not impressed. A series of mysterious lung injuries linked to other vaping companies further tarnished the fledgling industry’s reputation. In 2019, San Francisco banned all vaping products not reviewed by the FDA – preventing Juul from selling its products in its hometown. By the end of the year, Congress approved legislation to raise the age limit for selling e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.
None of that has threatened Juul as much as the FDA, which has begun to heat up the vaping market. In 2020, he ordered a halt to sales of all vaping products with sweet and fruity flavors, as Juul expected, and in 2021, he denied marketing approval for more than 55,000 flavored e-cigarette products.
Finally, in June of this year, the FDA came for Juul, rejecting its own marketing application and ordering its products off the market. Although the official statement said the company provided inadequate toxicology data, FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf said in a statement that Juul may have “played a disproportionate role in the rise of youth smoking.”
Even if the Juul survives, its moment as a disruptive market leader may have passed. Jeong, a Cornell graduate, says his peers stopped using Juuls when the company discontinued its popular flavors. People loved mint, which stayed on the shelves, but no one wanted to puff on a tobacco-flavored Juul.
Instead of kicking their vaping habit, his friends switched to other brands that popped up to pick up Juul’s dwindling market share. One of them, Fume, still sells flavors like pineapple, which Jeong describes as “drinking a piña colada,” thanks to a new regulatory loophole. The FDA ban applies to flavored vape pods, such as Juul’s pods, but not to single-use e-cigarettes, which come pre-filled and refilled. By 2020, the disposable Puff Bar, with flavors like Banana Ice and Blue Razz, had replaced the Juul as the most popular vaping device among teenagers.