Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul (2023) s01e03 Episode Script

Where's My Juul?

Gen Z is basically everyone born
between around 1998 and 2010.
People that grew up with an iPhone
from the time they were
in elementary school.
I started on social media
when I was a little baby Chance.
We got to post whatever we want to post.
Yeah, cool.
It's fun to see what friends are doing
and follow up with celebrities you like.
Sending each other funny pictures
or memes or whatever.
Gen Z is growing up
immersed in social media.
They can't remember time
before social media.
Everything is unavoidable.
You're pressured to post,
to live this life online, to use products
that might be slowly killing you.
And that's depressing and exhausting.
Gen Z realizes
that the American dream is dead,
climate change is inevitable,
you may never be able to buy a house,
you might drown in debt somehow,
you had to take out loans for college.
Life is brutal.
At least you can just go
on Instagram and scroll,
and have a break,
and forget about your problems.
That's something that JUUL taps into.
Taking a hit of JUUL is like getting
a like on social media, or a comment.
It's that rush of energy
or that quick relief
where you feel good for an instant.
It's a break from the nightmare world
we all live in and have to grow up in.
JUUL was this highly addictive product
colliding with a generation of kids
that's been marinating
in highly addictive technology.
It's a match made in heaven
for a disaster.
It went from no one doing it to everyone
doing it within a span of like a month.
The first time I saw
a JUUL, I saw my friend hitting something,
and I'm like,
"What are you doing? What is that?"
She pulled it out and said,
"A JUUL. Ever try it?"
I was like, "No."
She's like, "Hit it."
And I was like "Oh. Okay."
I'm Chance Amiratta,
and I grew up in Miami my whole life.
Growing up in Miami was crazy,
to put it in like, one word.
You get introduced to things
when you're young.
When I started high school,
I didn't know too much about vaping
and didn't even care to.
But I think the second that JUUL hit,
you know, you get curious.
Why is there a flavored stick?
My name is Ksenia Benes,
and I'm from Nashotah, Wisconsin.
The first time, it really is like a rush.
You're like, "Whoa!"
"My body feels different."
And you feel tingly all over,
and it's such a quick feeling
that they're like,
"I want to feel that again
and know what I experienced."
Because it's almost
a hard feeling to place.
Vaping was super easy.
You could vape in any class.
You just like, this
hold it in for two seconds and
right under the desk.
And it just looks like
a little USB in your computer.
Everyone would charge them openly.
I think that's why it got so popular.
We can hit this whenever we want to.
So anyone could smoke 24/7
and most likely not get caught.
You whip it out and you're like,
"I got the mango one. You want to try it?"
Or, "I got a blue one,
and silver, and gold. Oh my gosh."
So it's just It's cool.
It became
such a social thing to do.
The fact that you'd walk
into a bathroom during class
and there's a little circle of people
passing a JUUL around,
we're talking and socializing,
and it just became a different form
of being more social with one another.
JUUL definitely did create
a newfound sense of unification
with the generation that I grew up in.
It's a product that can barely
stay on the shelves at smoke shops
across the country.
Early 2017,
it started to pick up.
And you couldn't even find one
to buy anywhere.
That might have gone on
for six to 12 months.
There was a big problem
with their supply chain.
They could not keep up with the demand.
Not even near.
People were scalping the stuff.
I think it was
the explosive demand.
You have to forecast
your manufacturing months in advance.
It's not like you can make them
instantaneously. Takes a while.
I think that was called
the dreaded diamond effect,
where demand outstrips supply.
People raved about the product,
but they were upset they couldn't get it.
Mark-ups were astronomical.
A pod pack that was normally $15,
you could sell for $50 for a four-pack,
$60 for a four-pack,
and people were paying it.
With the problems
that JUUL was facing,
and supply chain issues,
and the growing demand,
they needed a dedicated leader
who could help the company grow.
Since James's demotion,
there hadn't been a clear leader.
So in 2017,
the board finally brought in a new CEO.
And they picked a man named Kevin Burns.
If you want to find a moment
JUUL went from being a tech product
to not a tech product,
it's when they hired a yogurt CEO.
He had worked on yogurt before.
It's a pretty different product.
Not to denigrate yogurt.
Kevin Burns
was a supply chain guru
who, in fact,
successfully got the supply chain going.
He did have
great credentials.
His record at Chobani was outstanding,
and what he had done
to the yogurt industry
was what JUUL was trying to do
to the tobacco industry.
He was brought in
to grow the company.
Certainly there was a tremendous amount
of pressure from the board.
When you have somebody come in
who's not a tech person, not in the space,
it is very clear that their one job
is to figure out how to grow
and how to get bigger.
For me, the size of the opportunity
was intriguing in terms of
a billion smokers around the world.
Like, "This could be massive."
I remember there being
a feeling in the office of, like,
"What is the priority?"
Kevin is like,
"Everything is the priority."
"Everything all at once."
There was a meeting where he asked me,
"What do you need?"
I told him. He's like, "Okay, done."
Kevin Burns makes you feel
like you can move mountains.
He definitely pumped you up.
He would say, "Here's what we need to do.
We need to go do it."
And I needed to double,
triple our production.
The demand got so crazy.
We were looking at numbers every day,
trying to figure out,
"Are we able to sustain this?"
We need 50,000 pods.
All right, we can do 50,000 pods.
By the time they were at 50,000,
we were like,
"Change that. It's 250 now."
200 would change to 500. It would keep
getting astronomically higher.
Everyone from Uber,
Airbnb, Facebook, Apple,
everyone was leaving there
to come to JUUL.
The buzz was out.
We were hiring hundreds,
hundreds of people.
And that was all Kevin.
Expansion was really
Kevin's number one priority.
Asia was going to be
a huge market for us.
And the UK saw the health benefits,
and that was a crucial place for us to be.
There was gonna be
JUUL stores all over the world.
We were primed to be the next Apple.
- The limit does not exist.
- We couldn't grow fast enough.
We couldn't open up enough offices.
It was crazy.
It felt like the rocket ship
was taking off.
JUUL Labs has been able
to achieve something
no other start-up has done
in such little time.
The e-cigarette maker has crossed
the decacorn threshold,
which is a valuation
In the crazy,
fast-moving world of tech,
being a unicorn, a company worth
$1 billion, is now totally commonplace.
Now $10 billion needed its own name,
so it became the decacorn.
JUUL used to talk about, "We don't want
to just own the e-cig market,
we want the entire smoking market."
Which is enormous.
Of course there's
a $10 billion company in that.
It's probably worth much more,
if that's what it can pull off.
It was super exciting.
We had all this growth,
and we were flush with cash.
The reason that everyone
was grinding so hard,
working insane hours,
moving these literal mountains,
was that this was going
to mean something as well.
Kevin's mission from the board
was to grow the company
as quickly as possible.
What I always
appreciated about Kevin though
was the way that he evaluated our success
was not purely revenue,
it was also
the decline of cigarette sales.
He used to send us an email,
and you would see the way
cigarette sales are tracking
overlaid with JUUL's growth.
And those were so strongly correlated.
And I appreciated
that was Kevin's yardstick for us,
because that felt to me,
truly mission-oriented.
Our goal isn't to sell JUUL to everyone.
Our goal is to stop cigarettes.
JUUL is doing what it's intended.
It is really a substitute
for people that use cigarettes
on a daily, you know, weekly basis.
It did feel like we were doing
something good for society.
My first warnings with 20/20 hindsight
It's just
I have this image in my mind
of a specific person
with her big, baggy sweatshirt,
and alternately,
going like this with her sleeve.
And going like this.
And they would take a hit, hold it,
and then they would exhale it
into their sweatshirts.
It just
And that's how bold they were
because they knew we weren't
gonna know what the eff they were doing.
My name is Jonathan Hirsch, I go by Jon,
and I teach in Marin County,
one of the wealthiest counties
in the nation.
When I started with
tobacco use prevention education in 2012,
less than 1% of freshmen
used cigarettes habitually.
It was so fringe.
It's not like we would see
cigarette butts on campus.
And nicotine was just so not something
that we thought about anymore.
We were focused on alcohol abuse.
We were focused on
rising rates of cannabis abuse.
And the tobacco thing,
we thought we'd won that battle.
We thought that was done.
Cigarettes are bullies.
Don't let tobacco control you.
Gen Z and Millennials
have been bombarded since they were born
with anti-cigarette messaging,
the giant warning signs that you see
on the side of cigarette boxes.
Cigarettes were kinda seen
as gross, smelly,
something that your parents did.
It just wasn't as much of a thing.
When I was only six years old,
my mom started smoking.
I really didn't like it.
JUUL made their nicotine product
cool again
by being like, "This is not a cigarette."
"It's this thing that you suck on,
and it tastes good."
Charlie was a sophomore,
and I think we were on a plane to Florida.
And he pulls out this silver thing
and sucks on it.
And puts it in his pocket.
I'm like, "What's that?"
And he said, "Oh, it's a JUUL."
I'm like,
"Should you be doing that on a plane?"
He's like, "Yeah, it's fine.
It's just water and flavoring."
He smoked crème brûlée,
and it actually smelled good.
But I didn't quite know
how to approach it as a parent.
As much as I would put myself
in the anti-smoking category,
JUUL slipped in.
The same thing that made JUUL
a good fit for adult smokers
also made it appealing to teenagers.
So it's small,
it doesn't produce a lot of smell,
and it's really discreet to use.
The first time my mom saw it,
I think she saw a bunch of empty pods
that I had for my JUUL,
and she was like, "What is this?"
And I looked at her and panicked.
I was like, "It was the lights in my car."
"I was switching them out
because it was messed up."
And I was like, "That was a bad lie.
She's gonna know this is like, total BS."
Then she looked at me.
She's like, "Okay," and put it back down.
I was like, "All right, cool."
Teenagers could sit
in the back of classrooms
and be JUULing the whole time,
and their teacher had no idea.
JUUL is basically
tailor-made for content.
You saw so many pictures on Instagram
with people vaping.
Basically because aesthetically,
it looked cool.
Everything looks cooler
with a smoke machine in it, right?
And that's what JUUL allowed you to do.
If you can do a Ghost
or you can do a French Inhale,
you're like "Cool, dude."
You saw a lot of accounts
that were themed about JUUL.
There was #juulnation, #juulboyz.
All of these accounts dedicated to posting
and glamorizing the JUUL lifestyle.
Things like the JUUL pod challenge,
where people are trying to vape
as much as possible before they pass out.
You just saw people
being crazier and crazier.
Vaping was this thing
that became an internet phenomenon.
When we started to realize
that teenagers were using our product,
like, the first initial reaction
was like, "Oh my God. This is so cool."
"Everybody in high school is using JUUL.
Everyone in college is using JUUL."
"We are the coolest thing ever."
"We're the new Nike, the new Vans,
we're the newest fad."
"Nothing's more hip than a JUUL."
And pretty quickly we started to realize,
"Wait a second. This is not good."
Everyone at the company knew
that kids would get their hands on it.
Like cigarettes. Kids aren't supposed
to smoke cigarettes, but they do.
But then you just started seeing
a lot more kids with it.
I was at The Americana in Glendale,
and I remember there was a mom walking
and there were four girls behind her,
they had to be maybe 12 or 13,
and they were passing around a JUUL
behind her back.
I don't know if the mom knew
they were using a JUUL,
but because it was inconspicuous,
they were able to pass it, use it,
and not tell anyone.
And it just was like
"It's going to start becoming
an issue if we don't fix it."
I was on our social media team.
I could see what was out there,
and we hated those accounts
showing our product being used
in a very irresponsible way
by people who were not legally
supposed to be using this product.
We were up against
a constant battle every day.
We'd get an account taken down,
five more would pop up.
Instagram would tell us, "These accounts
aren't doing anything wrong."
"They're not pretending to be JUUL.
They're fan accounts."
"There's nothing we can do."
For me, the mission was so important.
I knew what the product had done for me,
I knew what it could do for other people,
and I didn't want that to get lost.
Which is why it was so important for us
to be on social media to counteract that,
having the product in adult situations.
So we limited bright colors.
We were stodgy and boring.
We wanted to say,
"This is what JUUL is and this is
what we represent for the adult smoker."
"We are not this other noise."
We didn't want young people
to be purchasing JUUL.
I met Adam
for the first time in 2017.
JUUL was hiring new people,
increasing their sales month over month.
and so Adam came down to Florida
for what's known as
the Tobacco Science Research Conference.
Late at night,
people were drinking and hanging out,
and we started talking,
and the one thing
that sticks out about that meeting,
I brought up to him,
"You need to recognize
that you are a couple months away
from a calamity of epic proportions."
What I told Adam is that,
"Because of the viral videos,
it is looking like your product
is gaining usage among young adults."
I said to him, "I don't know
what you can do to prepare for it,
but you need to start thinking about it."
Adam recognized that it was happening.
He took my concerns seriously,
but I think he thought it was manageable.
The unprecedented rise in vaping
comes at a time when
traditional cigarette smoking,
drinking, and other drug use
has gone down among young people.
By 2017, the tobacco industry had noticed
that e-cigarettes were starting
to eat into their cigarette sales.
So they were really trying
to get into the game themselves
to try to recoup some of that lost money.
Big Tobacco has been trying
to find some profitable way
out of cigarettes for decades.
Every year that these vaping products
became more successful,
they really couldn't resist.
Altria is the parent company
of Philip Morris,
which makes the Marlboro cigarette.
So they are one of the biggest
tobacco companies in the world and the US.
They had an e-cigarette of their own
called the MarkTen,
but it was starting to look
increasingly out of date
next to products like JUUL.
So, in early 2017,
the executive team from Altria
reached out to the people at JUUL
and told them they were interested
in a partnership of some kind.
The founders were skeptical of this offer.
They didn't think it made a ton of sense.
I know we're out of time. I want to ask,
have you talked to the tobacco companies?
Have you fielded any takeover offers?
We know many folks
in the tobacco industry,
uh, but we're very proudly independent
and growing the company independently.
If a partnership
with a major tobacco company,
if frankly, any number of things
that we could do
would accelerate the decline
of adult smoking,
and improve the lives
of consumers around the world,
then we would certainly consider it.
We're not necessarily convinced that's
the move that would make that happen.
There was a smoke shop
right in front of my school,
and we're not supposed to be
able to purchase a JUUL until we're 18,
but all the kids who were buying them
would go there because the guy was chill,
and he would not ID anyone
and you could just walk in and buy it.
Mango was the best when I first started.
Even now, when I talk about a mango pod,
I'm like, "That was a good one."
But after about two months,
everyone got addicted,
so it wasn't a trend anymore.
It was like, "This is what we do."
When I started JUULing,
I didn't really understand
that there was nicotine in JUULs.
You ever put your face over boiling water
when you're making pasta and you're like
That's kind of what I thought of it as.
I didn't understand how it worked
until I was wrapped up in it.
It happens so quickly.
You don't even realize you're addicted.
You're just used
to the habit of hitting something.
But then all of a sudden you're like,
"Wait, I don't feel good."
Then you hit it and feel better.
I was spending so much money on it,
and I was like,
"I really don't want to do it anymore."
I'd get moments where I threw it away
and was like, "I hate you."
"I don't want this in my life anymore."
And the next day, I'm going to
the smoke shop, buying another one.
I became so addicted to vaping
that it really took over my everything.
I was even a gymnast,
and I remember not having enough energy
to do the things I needed to do.
I didn't think you'd get
so addicted so quickly.
Then I was like,
"Even if there is nicotine,
it's water vapor and nicotine.
It's not that big of a deal."
You know, that can't be that bad, right?
One morning, one of my sons
woke up and couldn't find it,
had to get to work, was rushing,
and ended up punching a wall.
The frustration at that point of,
"I can't leave until I find this thing."
"I got to get to work. Where is the JUUL?"
"Where is my JUUL?"
"Where is my JUUL?"
Hey, have you guys seen my JUUL?
Is that it right there behind the couch?
It's not?
Fuck, where's my JUUL? ♪
Where's my JUUL? ♪
So not cool ♪
Where's my JUUL? ♪
Before the JUUL,
I remember vaping
was already pretty popular
with a lot of teenagers
and high school kids.
But they weren't getting super addicted.
A JUUL does hit different.
Because the nature of the vapes,
they delivered nicotine,
but in a much lower way,
and slower into the bloodstream.
JUUL figured out,
through the nicotine salt technology,
that you can deliver nicotine
in a way that was really comparable
to a Marlboro or a Camel.
And adult smokers want that immediate hit.
Same with the teenagers
when they started using JUUL.
The problem you were solving
from the smokers
became now a problem
of addiction to young people.
They were becoming highly addicted,
and pretty quickly.
When you smoke a cigarette,
you get to the end of it, and you stop.
With the JUUL, the only stop signal
is at the end of the JUUL pod.
Hey, yo. Nicotine addiction check!
A pod is a pack of cigarettes
when you talk about
the amount of nicotine that's in it.
JUUL uniquely is much more addictive
than even cigarettes.
Cigarettes make you cough and wheeze,
and you can't take in so much.
You can take in
a great amount of nicotine through JUUL,
much more rapidly
than you can with a cigarette.
E-cigarettes, nicotine, they all feel good
because they release dopamine
in that special part of your brain
that we call
the pleasure and reward center.
And nicotine is
very dangerous on the developing brain.
It can have lasting and lifelong effects.
Nicotine is implicated in mood changes,
in depression, anxiety,
and certainly withdrawal.
We'll see kids lose interest in school,
and their grades will start falling.
They're no longer interested
in their extracurricular activities,
and that's because these things
have become less pleasurable for them.
Once they're hooked,
they have a decades-long addiction
which is very difficult to break.
I went through a pod every two days,
which wasn't a lot
considering my friends
would go through one a day.
I vaped a lot,
and I did get pretty close
to finishing a pod a day.
And it's almost crazy
to hear myself say that
because I'm like, "I did that?"
I remember what we thought
when we heard,
"That guy goes through two packs a day."
And this, "Oh my God, that's so gross."
"That's so much, that's crazy.
"How could anyone ever do that?"
And there are these 15-year-old kids
who are doing the vape equivalent
of chain-smoking.
By his senior year,
my son was asking for help.
And he said, "I'm up to two pods a day."
And when a kid asks a mom for help,
I think probably the last person
you want to ask for help is your mom.
So we first went to his pediatrician.
And my pediatrician didn't have any ideas.
So I started thinking,
"Well, JUUL created this product."
"They built the amusement park,
and we're tired of the ride."
"Where's the exit ramp?"
So I wrote JUUL.
"Dear JUUL, my 20-year-old son
is incredibly addicted to JUUL
and wants to quit."
"He's using three pods a day."
"Do you have any research or advice
how to quit?"
I wasn't at that point
wanting to pick at JUUL
or make a huge scene.
I just wanted the answer.
"You built it.
How do I get my kid off it?"
"He wants to get off, I want to help him."
So I got a response from Mark Jones,
the Associate General Counsel.
I didn't expect a lawyer to write me back.
He wrote, "You should address this
question to your healthcare professional
since we're not able
to make health recommendations
and would not know of any special factors
that may apply to you
or your son's situation."
It's a "healthcare issue."
And they wouldn't know
any of the "special factors."
It's part of the tobacco playbook, that,
"For most people, this isn't a bad thing."
"There must be something wrong with you."
I was incredibly angry
that this delivery system had been created
for the smoker's experience,
but there had never been any thought
for when you don't
want to smoke it anymore.
What they had created
was an exquisite cigarette.
They had amped up all the things
that smokers loved about smoking,
and they had found a way to downplay
all the things about smoking
that really stigmatize smokers.
It didn't smell bad. It didn't look ugly.
And it wasn't the gateway
to nicotine freedom,
it was an exquisite jail that was created.
Never once,
as a smoker for 20-some years,
I never once smoked a cigarette in my car.
I never once
smoked a cigarette in my house.
It was because I didn't want
the smell, the odor, that's disgusting.
But with JUUL, there's no odor.
I could do it anywhere.
There's never a moment
I don't have it in my hand.
There's never a moment
it's not hanging out of my thing.
There's never a moment I don't have,
like, seven of them on me.
I believe that I'm better off
as a JUUL user
than I ever was as a cigarette smoker
from a health perspective,
but I am also much,
much more addicted to JUUL
than I ever was to cigarettes.
Thus, the conundrum.
We were waiting anxiously
for the 2018 National Youth Tobacco
survey results.
My statisticians first presented
the still raw NYTS data to me,
and my jaw dropped.
There was close to
an 80% increase year-on-year
in high school use of e-cigarettes.
50% or 60% increase
for middle school kids.
And JUUL turns up as the number one brand,
by a long shot, with kids.
And I had to go in and share
this unexpected result with Dr. Gottlieb.
Walked into his office,
I laid it out for him,
and his first reaction was, "Oh shit."
And I said, "Yeah. Oh, shit."
Scott Gottlieb was a medical doctor
who had previously served
in a couple of high-level roles
at the FDA.
And very quickly
after he became FDA Commissioner,
Scott Gottlieb set tobacco
as one of his big priorities.
Tobacco use remains
the leading cause of preventable
disease and death in the United States.
I would have weekly meetings with him,
and I laid out the elements
of a comprehensive plan
that was really tied to this notion
of harm reduction
and the continuum of risk.
And Scott and I were
completely aligned philosophically
in this notion that
not all tobacco products are equal.
There are more harmful
and less harmful ways to deliver nicotine.
Nicotine in cigarettes is not
directly responsible for the cancer,
the lung disease, the heart disease,
that kill hundreds of thousands
of Americans every year.
Scott Gottlieb, when
he started, he was a friend of JUUL.
He was our ally because
we both had the same mission,
which was to end cigarette smoke.
They had succeeded
where every predecessor had failed.
They had succeeded with technology
that more efficiently
delivered the nicotine into the lungs
without having to burn tobacco leaves
and inhale tobacco smoke.
Just because
the nicotine delivery is high,
that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.
It could actually be a good thing,
if it's gonna do a better job
of helping smokers
using a demonstrably more harmful product
to get off of the more harmful product.
There are now different technologies
to deliver nicotine for those who need it
that doesn't bring with it
the deadly consequence of burning tobacco
and inhaling the resulting smoke.
As regulators, we follow
the science and try to do the right thing.
And when we saw the quantitative data
that showed just how popular
this product was with kids,
alarm bells went off.
I remember thinking, "There has to be
something going on with this product."
"Why is it that this product has become,
seemingly overnight,
so popular with kids?"
The proportion of high school teenagers
using e-cigarettes has reached
nothing short of an epidemic level,
in my view.
But what we're working on now is a plan
where we would require these companies
to have to file applications
with the FDA demonstrating
that flavored products
have a net public health benefit
The Tobacco Control Act dictates
that a company with a new product
has to go through potentially,
a multimillion-dollar
pre-market authorization process.
What's known as the PMTA process.
And the FDA will judge a product
on whether or not it is
"appropriate for the protection
of public health."
Taking into account
the children who don't smoke,
the smokers who may one day quit,
the smokers who will never quit,
taking all the people
in the United States into account,
will this product benefit public health
by getting on the market?
And the burden is on the company
to prove that the benefits,
at a population level,
to bringing a new product to market
would outweigh the risks
and the unintended consequences.
Passing the PMTA process
was make or break for a company like JUUL.
If they couldn't prove that JUUL
was appropriate for public health,
it could be removed from the market,
and the company would go out of business.
The FDA announcing yesterday
that they have hard data that supports
a "public health tragedy" is now underway.
The US Surgeon General
has officially declared e-cigarettes
an epidemic with young Americans.
The agency
must soon decide whether
to increase regulations on these products
that have attracted
smokers trying to quit,
as well as millions of kids
who never smoked before.
The FDA gave companies several years
to file their PMTA applications.
But executives at JUUL knew
they would need to do something
about the teen vaping crisis,
or they would risk
failing the PMTA process
and getting swept off
the market completely.
So there was a lot at stake for JUUL
to make sure
that they handled this correctly.
Our mission at JUUL Labs is, to improve
the lives of the world's 1 billion smokers
and eliminate cigarettes.
As the industry leader,
we must lead the category
in decreasing underage use.
Today, we announced an action plan
to do just that
When we started to realize
this could be a problem,
this might hurt us,
we started pretty proactively,
pretty quickly,
to put into play plans,
um, to mitigate it.
Part of my salary, and part
of what's paying for my research,
is teenage sales?
It's terrible, and we didn't like it
not only because it's immoral, right?
But it's also just like bad business.
If we don't stop kids
from using and buying this product,
it's going to hurt our sales.
It's going to strike against us.
We were making more money
than you could imagine,
with a clear line to huge profits.
One plan that JUUL came up with
was an education campaign
where they could teach students
about the dangers of vaping
and why they shouldn't use nicotine.
I received a call
from Ashley Gould,
who was the Chief Administrative Officer
of JUUL at the time,
for advice about their school programs.
I said, "I'm happy to talk to them,
but they shouldn't be having
school programs."
And I sent
an enormous amount of information
so that they would understand
that the bad guys go into schools
and talk about their products.
The tobacco industry, when you look
at their strategy in the marketplace,
they're clearly going after youth.
Because they understand, get them young,
they become long-term consumers.
Philip Morris,
they launched their own campaign.
"Think, don't smoke."
But it's a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Think smoking makes you look cool?
No way.
They know
the mindset of teens.
So they create ads
that when kids see them,
they want to rebel against that ad.
On the surface, it looked like they wanted
to prevent teens from starting to smoke.
And yet, if you looked at the data,
it actually got teens
to think about smoking and to smoke.
When you're a corporation profiting
from young people buying your product,
who shouldn't be buying it
in the first place,
you're the last person
that should "educate" them.
I think the first time
I started using e-cigarettes
was in the summer
between 8th and 9th grade.
About halfway into freshman year,
six or seven months
after I started vaping,
I remember hearing we were going
to have a talk at our school.
A mental health speaker
came in to talk to us.
We were told that he was someone
who knew a lot
about addiction and drug use.
During these mental health seminars,
teachers would leave the room.
The idea was that if a teacher left,
people would feel more comfortable,
and feel like this was
a no-consequences kind of zone.
And the first speaker came out
and said that he was a JUUL representative
who knew the owner.
I remember everyone
sitting up in their seats
because 60-70% of my class
was also doing it.
Throughout the presentation,
there were slides up
in which the speaker was discussing
how the JUUL was not harmful
and how it was 99.9% safer
than combustible cigarettes.
That's an actual statistic
that was used in the presentation.
He pulled a JUUL out of his pocket,
referred to it as the iPhone of vapes.
So he really came off as a salesman.
After the talk,
I did not feel the need to quit
because of these facts that he was saying,
about how it wasn't really that harmful.
It was definitely a relief,
and I felt like I could move on
and keep using it without being worried.
After the presentation,
I did not find that many people
shared the sentiment that I had,
that this guy was trying to market
nicotine products to a bunch of teenagers.
It was absurd. I didn't feel
like people would believe me,
and I felt like the only person
who would listen, um, would be my mom.
I was like, "What?"
The guy started telling them,
"JUULing is for adults, not for kids."
"We don't want you as customers."
But it's "totally safe."
I called my friends and I was like,
"You will not believe this."
And over the next few nights, few weeks,
Dorian, and Dina, and I,
we would speak every night.
We were so angry. We decided
we were gonna have to do something.
So the three of us founded what became
Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes.
We called it PAVE.
And we would start googling,
and I'm a good googler.
Research started to come out proving
flavors were hooking the kids on JUUL,
so our advocacy focused on the flavors.
Kids have to be protected
from the forces
that are using flavors to addict them.
There's no question that,
because of flavors,
and how they were being advertised,
this took off with young people.
Fresh out of my middle school ♪
I get to the front of the store
They tell me they don't have mint flavor ♪
What? You don't have mint flavor? ♪
Yeah, I think I'm in love with it ♪
Flavors hook kids.
85% of kids using e-cigarettes
use a flavored e-cigarette.
The majority of them say they do so
because of the flavors.
Flavors weren't introduced to help adults,
and their primary impact has been on kids.
Here it is ♪
There's my favorite perfume ♪
We've been looking for everywhere ♪
They did cool cucumber,
fruit, the brûlée,
but mango was that one
that piqued everyone's interest
where they were like,
"Yo, this is awesome."
We heard from adult smokers
all the time,
flavors were important
in helping them switch from cigarettes.
They didn't want to keep vaping
something that tasted like a cigarette.
No one likes that taste.
I worked on flavors
for most of the time that I was at JUUL.
The challenge around flavors is that
the very same things that adults enjoy,
kids do too.
I literally had people tell me,
"No way that adults like mango
as much as kids do. There's no way."
That's a bunch
of bullshit to me. Bullshit.
Adults and kids like mangoes.
I mean,
mango was my favorite flavor.
I was a 35-year-old.
I like mangoes. They taste nice.
Mango and mint
were our two biggest flavors.
They were billion-dollar flavors for JUUL.
I was at a scientific meeting,
and I remember getting in
a long conversation with Kevin Burns.
He was doing his,
"This is a product for adults and to help
people quit and yab-di-dub-di-dub."
And I said,
"Look, I'm telling you, if I were you,
I'd get rid of the flavors right now,
because those are
gonna be your Achilles' heel."
Company advisors
started to tell Kevin Burns
that he should consider
stopping the sale of flavored products.
But Kevin was understandably
reluctant to do that,
because flavored pods
made up the bulk of JUUL's sales,
so if he stopped selling those,
it would be a huge revenue loss.
If we did this tour today
with a parent of a teen
who had been addicted,
how would you defend all this scale?
All this production? All this growth?
First of all, I'd tell them I'm sorry
their child is using the product.
It's not intended for them.
JUUL wanted
to solve this youth issue.
The best way to do it, the fail-proof way,
would be at the product side,
where we could potentially
verify the age right at the device.
It required creating
a new technology.
"This new JUUL's a smart JUUL.
It's a connected device."
"If anyone else tries to use it,
it won't turn on."
We will be introducing
a connected device version of JUUL.
James was intent
on getting that done,
so he was always very involved
in the development process itself.
He had the vision of what
he wanted the product to become.
James has always been
very motivated by design as a solution,
and he seemed to believe this could be
the solution that the company needed.
Other people weren't so sure.
When the kids issue
was really taking off,
James and some executives
came up to my office,
and, you know, they were telling us
how concerned they were about kids.
And we said, "Look, you know,
if you're really concerned about kids,
you wouldn't be doing
the marketing you're doing."
"You'd get rid of the flavors."
They said, "We have this great idea."
And I said, "Do you mean to tell me
that you can communicate
with these devices
in both directions
and control them remotely,
and you can measure second-by-second
how people are puffing on it?"
"The nicotine delivery
puff by puff by puff?"
"You could make that product
a million times more addictive
than a conventional analog cigarette."
I just said, "That's the scariest thing
I've ever heard."
By applying, by bringing
modern technologies to this historically
"light stick on fire,
put in mouth, inhale" uh, market,
what we can start to do is apply
some of those technologies
to things that aren't just
switching consumers off cigarettes.
That's kind of phase one for us
It's such a classic thing to say,
that the solution to technology
is more technology.
At an intellectual level,
it makes total sense.
But the truth that we have discovered
is that if you make good things,
lots of people will get it.
If you make those things addictive,
whether chemically,
or emotionally, or whatever,
people will overuse them,
and then it'll be too late
by the time we realize what's going on.
The founders of JUUL
are earnest and naive idealists.
They had this impression
that this would only have good benefits.
But it's a problem when you make something
that itself creates new kinds of harm.
Unfortunately, JUUL made that mistake
of throwing in a Molotov cocktail
into the cigarette world
that exploded into a youth fad.
We should punish the industry
for methodically taking advantage
of the youth vaping problem.
Parents got upset because they forgot
they had to parent their kids,
and JUUL isn't responsible for that.
When they go after our kids
on social media,
and through the use
of kid-friendly flavors,
how is that bad parenting?
JUUL is stealth by design.
JUUL's small, it's discreet.
That wasn't made for kids that way.
It was made because adult smokers
also want to be discreet.
How is that JUUL's fault?
It's not.
And I don't know why,
out of all the other businesses
that are out there,
JUUL is the one that people
seem to hop on the most.
Do you feel like, with everything
that's happened around this conversation,
that the brand itself has been tarnished
to the point where
even the most well-intentioned actions
are not going to be effective?
I think the burden is very high on us, um
Once JUUL had gone
down this road of growth at all costs
and done what seemed like increasingly
problematic things to get that,
like going into schools and talking
to people about their products,
that was when
it started to be like, "Okay,
this thing that I think we all
maybe naively believed was mission-driven
and about doing the right thing,
and about solving a problem
that is real and worth solving,
is not the whole story."
Our goal, our mission,
is to eliminate combustible cigarettes.
So we're in our infancy.
This is just getting started.
I remember waking up
at like 7:00 in the morning
and getting text messages from co-workers,
like, "Did you see this?"
What the hell is going on?
What? Why would we do this?
It didn't make sense.
Most people joined the company
to beat Altria, to bring them down.
I woke up and I read it on my phone,
and I was fucking pissed.
I was really pissed.
Marlboro maker Altria
taking a 35% stake in JUUL Labs,
the board approving a nearly
$13 billion investment, 12.8 billion.
I wasn't surprised at the notion
that Altria would invest in JUUL,
I was surprised at the amount.
Their e-cigarette product
was never going to compete with JUUL,
so they wanted a piece of it.
After I finished the article,
before I made it to the office,
they had called an emergency all-hands.
We were all just like, "What is going on?"
So we all gathered
into the kitchen.
I remember being physically shocked.
And generally, that was the sentiment.
There were rumblings internally,
of people just like, they hated it.
We joined the company because
we wanted to take down Big Tobacco.
If we're gonna team up with Big Tobacco,
then how are we doing that?
Our entire mission
is to put them out of business,
and you just let them buy us?
It felt like they were
partnering with the Devil.
There were people questioning whether
they wanted to stay with the company.
And then, um,
Kevin's pitch was,
"Here's all the money
you're going to make."
Money, money, money ♪
Mo' money, money, money ♪
Money, money, money ♪
Mo' money ♪
They say more money, more problems
I say more money, no problem ♪
The only trouble I got is
I need more room in my wallet ♪
They say more money, more problems
I say more money, no problem ♪
'Cause I've been making withdrawals
And make even bigger deposits ♪
Yeah, I love my money
And my money loves me ♪
All the coin in the bank
making the livin' easy ♪
Yeah, I love my money
And my money loves me ♪
More buck when the bank say,
"Cha-ching, cha-ching" ♪
Uh ♪
Money loves me ♪
Yeah, money loves me ♪
Money loves me ♪
Yeah, money loves me ♪
Previous EpisodeNext Episode