The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Vape makers must do more to stop kids from using e-cigarettes

A man demonstrates the use of an electronic cigarette in Aurora, Colo. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

The author is chief executive of Juul Labs.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb were right when they argued in The Post on March 21 that vapor products present an opportunity to move adult smokers off combustible cigarettes, the leading cause of preventable death.

They are right that use by minors of vapor products, including Juul products, is a serious problem that threatens the opportunity our industry offers.

They are right also that companies such as ours must step up with meaningful measures to limit access and appeal of vapor products to young people.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done, and we will do more to combat teen use in order to save the harm-reduction opportunity for the 34 million adult smokers in the United States.

But don’t take our word for it — look at our actions.

Seven months ago, when Gottlieb raised the alarm about this issue, we responded. After consulting with the FDA, we stopped the sale of flavored Juul pods to traditional retail stores, enhanced our online age-verification process, strengthened our retailer compliance, and exited our Facebook and Instagram accounts. We continue to work to remove inappropriate social media content generated by others on these platforms. And we will do more, including employing new ways to limit youth access and, ultimately, reduce the use of tobacco by teenagers.

We support the FDA’s draft guidance restricting the sale of certain flavored products, including Juul pods, at retail outlets and online. There is no place for kid-appealing flavors in the marketplace. That is why we would also support an outright ban on such flavors, including those that mimic candies or childrens’ foods. We also support the FDA’s swift enforcement against any manufacturer that packages or markets its vapor products in a way intended to promote use by minors.

We are already doing more than the FDA has asked of the industry, but there’s more that government, regulators and other stakeholders can do. This includes the other vapor manufacturers that participate in the U.S. market, who need to step up and step up now.

We’ve led our industry in support of raising the minimum-purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21. Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem — social sourcing by legal-age peers — and they have been shown to dramatically reduce teen-use rates. We applaud California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia, which have passed “T21” legislation, and urge the federal government and every state to pass legislation to raise the minimum-purchasing age to 21.

We also need government agencies to take their own actions against counterfeit, knockoff and other illegal vapor products, which are often made with unknown ingredients, with unknown quality standards, and with youth-appealing flavors and packaging. Many of these products are offered for sale online without age-verification or in violation of FDA rules, which prohibit new products from entering the market without FDA approval.

We have taken these actions first and foremost because it is the right thing to do. It is also essential for our business. Our market is the 1 billion adult smokers globally. More than 70 percent of smokers want to quit. Offering adult smokers a real alternative to cigarettes is a commercial opportunity of historic proportions. If our company can successfully switch adult smokers at the rate we believe is possible, we can deliver vast benefits to those smokers who want an alternative to combustibles, to their loved ones and to society as a whole — as well as enormous value to our shareholders. Teen use puts it all at risk.

Despite the incredible success our society has had in reducing the use of combustible cigarettes, they remain the No. 1 cause of preventable death. In 2018, nearly 500,000 Americans died from illness caused by cigarette smoking. In 2019, the number will likely be the same. Globally, more than 7 million smokers die each year from cigarette-related illnesses. After decades of fighting to reduce smoking, we now have a historic opportunity to drive those numbers even lower, even faster.

We have seen early but unprecedented signs of success in switching adult smokers from combustible cigarettes. Behavioral studies show that nearly 50 percent of adult smokers will fully switch from combustible cigarettes after 90 days of using Juul products. We have also seen data that there have been sustained declines in cigarette sales as vapor sales have grown. According to Nielson data, cigarette sales in the United States had historic declines of at least 5 percent last year, which increased to 8 percent in recent months. A single, additional percentage drop in annual cigarette sales represents approximately 2 billion to 3 billion fewer cigarettes smoked.

To continue to have success in our mission to eliminate cigarette use among adult smokers, we must work together to fight against teen use of e-cigarettes.

Read more:

Alex M. Azar and Scott Gottlieb: The future of e-cigarettes depends on the industry’s willingness to protect teens

The Post’s View: Keep e-cigarettes in the hands of those who need them — but out of the hands of minors

Letters to the Editor: If e-cigarettes are a top priority, why hasn’t the FDA issued a new rule?