Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul (2023) s01e04 Episode Script

Overnight Billionaires

We evolved lungs
to breathe air.
The lungs have about
a football field of surface.
They're huge, if you take
all the little bubbles and lay them out.
If you could
look at a lung, it's very pink and lacey.
And doctors say the only thing
that should be in your lungs is air.
What goes into your lungs
often stays in your lungs.
The lungs are fragile,
and so anything that gets inhaled
besides air is worrisome.
The most addictive way
to deliver a drug is to inhale it.
It goes to your brain in a few seconds,
and you get a big hit.
The diabolical genius
of this industry
is turning what essentially
is a form of enslavement
to a product
as addictive as heroin or cocaine
into a form of liberty.
It was the July 4th weekend, 2019.
We thought it was going to be
a pretty quiet a pretty quiet weekend.
I take a deep breath,
and it hurts.
It was so painful to speak,
or even breathe.
I feel like I'm dying.
Three more kids came in.
It just kept building.
There were hospitals across the country
that were reporting this.
Three young people in Illinois,
and 11 teens and young adults in Wisconsin
have been hospitalized
with severe lung disease.
What all had in common
was that they had been vaping.
- It's quite a story
- $38 billion valuation
$17 billion stake in San Francisco
e-cigarette maker JUUL.
Christmas came early
for employees of JUUL,
the popular e-cigarette maker.
They got a $2 billion bonus
coming their way.
It'll be split among
the company's 1,500 employees,
which breaks down
to about $1.3 million each.
- Wow!
- Secret Santa around the office.
- That's right.
- $1.3 million, incredible.
I was woken up by my mother.
"I just got a call from Bobby Levine."
She saw on the Today show
every single employee at JUUL
is now a multi-millionaire.
So I look on the internet,
I turn on the TV.
Sure enough, all of JUUL's employees
woke up this morning millionaires.
Jumping up and down, like,
"It happened! I'm a millionaire!"
You are, according to valuation
of your company, a billionaire.
And that's the club you want to be in
because that is truly rarefied air,
even in the tech industry.
We all piled into
this big lunchroom.
There was a lot of excitement.
Kevin, Adam, and James
announced the Altria investment,
and they were of the mindset
that this was a huge step for the company.
When they were breaking down how
the bonus was structured, they were like,
"Everyone will get this much money."
I'm like, "What?"
So Kevin went through the numbers,
and then I went back to my desk
and I figured it out. It's like, "Whoa."
And, of course, Adam and James
became billionaires overnight.
It was an interesting room to be in.
There was a lot of celebration.
But it was definitely
a divisive sort of announcement.
There were some people
that raised their hand
at the all-hands and said, "Hey
are you telling us that
we're now owned by Big Tobacco?"
It was shocking.
I could no longer
turn to my friends and say,
"No, we're not Big Tobacco."
A lot of people thought
this was going the wrong direction.
It didn't align with their values.
We were anti-Big Tobacco.
Yes, we sell nicotine products,
but we're not like them.
We hated Big Tobacco.
That hate was very much
a unifying part of our mission.
It's something that motivated us,
and all of a sudden it was like,
"Now we are Big Tobacco."
Kevin came up, and essentially he gave
a presentation to pull his team back.
The reason why this happened is we said,
"Okay, tell you what."
"You want to invest in our company?
You want to buy us?"
"We'll take all the money
that it would require to buy us,
and we're going to give you 35%."
They were going to put
an advertisement for JUUL
inside each and every
Altria brand cigarette package.
That's probably the best
direct-to-consumer marketing
that we could ever get.
Altria would provide
legal and regulatory support,
as well as sales and marketing support.
We were actually
taking over shelf space.
Instead of having
eight slots of cigarettes,
it would be 4 slots of cigarettes
and 4 slots of JUUL.
They were gonna allow us
access to their email database.
If you want to reach adult smokers,
who has a bigger database than Altria?
They wouldn't control the company,
so that made me feel a lot better
about the investment.
They were also committing, by 2050,
to get rid of combustion completely.
Who in their right mind
would ever agree to any of those things,
let alone all those things?
Someone who knows they lost.
The three of them
turned the tide, even for me,
in a way that I had not anticipated
that they would.
The way that it was positioned
was that this partnership with Altria
could help us accomplish
a huge part of our mission.
Altria had to believe
that JUUL not only was becoming the thing,
but that it would overtake cigarettes.
This is them admitting defeat.
We had struck a blow to the Goliath.
They were kowtowing to us now.
JUUL's ended cigarettes.
They're admitting it.
"It's just a phase-out."
They're switching to us.
That's a pretty powerful explanation
that that sounded like
the best thing I've ever heard.
And more than welcome, any of you,
to send out questions, concerns,
to all of us.
We would love to answer them personally
for all of you.
A lot of people walked out of that meeting
not knowing what to think.
I didn't think that I could stay,
because if I accepted the money,
it was like blood money.
And I thought a bit about
how my dad would perceive it.
He had been a smoker my whole life,
and he ultimately died of lung cancer.
I essentially came to the conclusion that
if Altria is gonna help us do
what we've been trying to do anyway,
then it's for good.
So that was how I justified it.
But I will say it was not an easy
conclusion for me to come to.
I still feel weird about it.
When Gottlieb and I learned,
Gottlieb being the Commissioner
of the Food and Drug Administration,
that, unknown to us,
those companies were in secret
negotiations for a $12.8 billion deal,
we were incredulous.
Both companies had engaged
in disingenuous behavior with us,
and we felt betrayed.
It seems to Gottlieb,
JUUL and Altria
were trying to undermine the FDA,
preparing to sell
even more of the vaporizer
that was most popular among teenagers.
It called into question
the integrity of the individuals.
But I've learned over time
to be very skeptical
about what comes out of the mouths
from anybody in the tobacco industry,
including e-cigarette manufacturers.
For us to successfully fulfill
our mission of helping adult smokers
we must be trusted.
And we must earn that trust.
That starts with action, not words.
We thank Commissioner Gottlieb
for his leadership in this area,
and we look forward
to working with the FDA
to solve this issue
on an industry-wide basis.
I questioned just how genuine
any statement from the head of JUUL was
about sharing
a common goal with regulators
about reducing youth use
of their products.
Big Tobacco never went away.
They play the long game,
and they must replenish their customers,
or they will put themselves
out of business.
The parents of this country are fed up.
You're not taking this generation.
Eff you.
We're going to make it really hard for you
to continue addicting kids.
My daughter was 15
and a sophomore in high school
when she first tried vaping
with some girlfriends.
She's been addicted to the JUUL products
since she was about 13, 14 years old.
Please tell the FDA now is the time
to put our children's health
over the profits of Big Tobacco
Parents were sending
thousands of letters to FDA
saying, "Get rid of the flavors,
get rid of online sales."
"We want action. Go after this company."
We're trying to protect kids, and I think,
"Now we just have to get the FDA
to do that too, and we'll be all set."
This was becoming
an increasingly political issue,
so Gottlieb was taking all of this heat
for trying to implement the framework
that we'd come up with in 2017,
where there was a place
for alternative and less harmful products.
But then, we get this disastrous data
on the explosion of e-cigarettes
with children and adolescents
in 2017 and 2018.
At some point, the youth use
of those products becomes so intolerable
that they have no redeeming health value,
and we'll have to sweep the market
of those products, including JUUL
Scott Gottlieb
changed the deadline
for when companies like JUUL
had to submit their
Premarket Tobacco Product Applications,
and if they couldn't prove that JUUL
was appropriate for public health,
it could be removed from the market,
and the company
would have to go out of business.
People jumped on the bandwagon
because it's Big Tobacco all over again.
"We thought we'd eradicated this."
I think that was the big narrative
that drew people in.
I can see how
the way the media portrayed it,
it was like,
"It's Big Tobacco all over again."
I would have conversations
with a stranger,
and I was always worried
that if I told him I worked for JUUL,
it'd be like, "How does it feel
working getting nicotine to kids?"
Someone came up to me
at a party, not knowing it was me,
like, "There are a bunch of people
from that fucked-up company JUUL here,
that made all this money and think
they're hot shit now." And I was like
This was misreported pretty broadly
about how much money people made.
Somebody wrote
that when Altria invested $2 billion,
they were splitting it among
the 1,500 employees evenly.
So there were all these people
on LinkedIn being like
"Do you need help
managing your millions?"
And I was laughing. I was like,
"I literally just made enough
to pay off my parking tickets."
It was unfair
how the media was portraying JUUL.
The marketing of
that acquisition
could have been done better
to portray the real benefit
that this would allow JUUL
to reach more older smokers
that are smoking and killing themselves,
and have a much more positive effect
on the health of the nation.
The Altria deal made it even harder
to earn public trust,
and if you lose the public's trust,
you lose the permission to operate,
to be a business.
It's easy to judge the company.
The mistrust is understandable.
Big Tobacco did some
really messed-up things,
so we're not even
starting from a good place.
We have to try and make up for that.
The onus is on us.
We better get to work.
There was a sense of urgency,
without a doubt.
They said, "We want you to be
the Director of Product
for Youth Prevention."
"If this company is going to survive,
you have to solve this."
They wanted me to focus
on the retail end of it.
Underage kids
going into a convenience store
and making a purchase
without being carded.
But as much as every retail store can say,
"Yeah, we'll make sure to card,"
there was no technology or anything
to guarantee that would happen.
So we built age verification technology,
where you have to swipe a driver's license
to complete a purchase.
JUUL was doing something
no other company was doing.
Anheuser-Busch wasn't telling
all their retailers,
"You have to add age verification."
The founders and the company
truly believe that they're saving lives,
and children getting access
to this product
is only distracting
what the company's vision is.
The mission was so important.
I was a smoker.
I knew what the product had done for me,
I knew what it could do for others.
So with all the negative publicity
around JUUL
and the perception that JUUL
was causing all of this harm,
there was this whole group of people
that JUUL was helping.
We started to hear from people
with real stories.
We used that database of stories
to cast our commercials,
and what became
the Make the Switch campaign.
Popped a pod in it,
took a couple of puffs,
and I was surprised
at how similar it was to a cigarette.
I felt a sense of pride
that I was able to let go of that habit.
I wanted to help other people
who had similar stories as me
get off of cigarettes.
We didn't pay them.
They weren't actors.
There was this desire
to be very deliberate
in how we portrayed ourselves.
"Make the Switch."
As a marketer,
it's the simplest message there is.
If they thought that by Make the Switch,
they could put the toothpaste back
in the tube, they were fooling themselves.
It was too late.
Millions of children
are already addicted to e-cigarettes,
and millions more will follow
if we don't act.
This is what I think sometimes
you see happen with companies.
If they perceive
that public officials are timid,
they take advantage of it.
From my perspective,
JUUL was preying
on the timidity of the FDA,
and as a result, it was left
to San Francisco to do their job for them.
We're introducing today
groundbreaking legislation
at the Board of Supervisors
that would prohibit the sale
in San Francisco
of any e-cigarette that has not undergone
FDA pre-market review
That was a bill that
Parents Against Vaping fought hard for,
and that was a huge victory.
There's no reason that our kids
should be used as human guinea pigs
for the e-cigarette experiment.
Banning vaping in San Francisco's
a fucking travesty.
This product helped people
like myself get off of cigarettes,
but suddenly,
it's more difficult to purchase.
Meanwhile, the thing that I've wanted
to quit for so long is readily available.
It seems kind of ass-backwards.
Interesting that their hometown
just banned the product.
It is fundamentally retaliatory,
short-sighted, and political.
Some say that this is
Nanny State-like and puritanical.
I don't agree with that.
You just have to have been approved,
as required under the law,
before you sell in San Francisco.
Pretty simple.
Now the sides were drawn.
It was the good guy crusaders,
the liberal democrats,
against Big Tobacco.
Kids in nice prep schools
in New York, Silicon Valley,
have taken up these e-cigarettes,
and there was kind of a moral panic.
These are parents with money,
these are parents with influence,
these are parents
with political connections.
- Thank you for having me.
- We saw each other this weekend.
I told Dorian I would cover it,
and here we are
It's a classic example
of a narrow interest group
using their political clout
in a way that does not benefit
the broader good.
People say it was only rich white kids.
I don't think that's entirely accurate.
We represent millions of parents
whose lives have been upended
by the youth vaping epidemic.
And there's only anecdotal evidence
that adults are helped by e-cigarettes,
but there's proven evidence
that kids are harmed.
When you know someone is harming children,
how do you look away?
The summer of 2019,
I saw JUUL marketing everywhere.
I also started hearing
from my own children about this.
We were in a youth vaping epidemic.
28% of high schoolers were vaping,
almost 11% of middle schoolers
were vaping.
JUUL was everywhere.
The biggest concern
that I was hearing from parents is that
JUUL was marketing directly to their kids.
We first asked JUUL for any materials
surrounding the sales and marketing
of these devices.
They basically slow-walked us.
And then at some point,
Kevin Burns, the CEO of JUUL,
actually tried to go over my head
to my chairman,
and Elijah Cummings said to Mr. Burns,
"If you fuck with my people,
I will nail you to a cross."
JUUL, at that point,
produced 55,000 documents to us.
And the documents were so damning
in terms of showing exactly how
they were using social media influencers,
and that there was no evidence
to support a lot of their claims
that JUULs were safer
than combustible cigarettes.
That's when we decided, "We need to bring
these folks in to explain themselves."
We asked for James Monsees
to actually testify
because we really wanted to hear
from the founder of JUUL under oath.
I felt badly for James
as a person and as a friend,
but it was time for us to be public
in responding
to everyone's valid concerns.
Good afternoon. Sorry for the delay.
The subcommittee will come to order.
The atmosphere when
James Monsees entered the room was tense.
The room was packed.
You had all these
anti-youth-vaping advocates.
Mr. Monsees,
do you swear that the testimony
In just under 15 years,
James had gone from a Stanford
graduate student presenting his thesis
to defending the product
that resulted from that thesis
in front of Congress.
This was a high-pressure situation.
He was fighting
for the life of his company.
Everybody in the office
was either in a conference room
with it on the TV,
or on their laptops with headphones.
You know this is going to be
a defining moment.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We need to work together to make sure
that no underage consumers
use this product.
We want to get on to the business of
eliminating cigarettes and saving lives.
He was trying to implore,
"Let's work together to figure this out."
And they turned around
and said, "You're a monster."
JUUL began developing a pod
to deliver more nicotine to the blood.
Is that accurate?
Uh I'm not sure what you're referring to.
that you don't know the answer.
How many are available today?
I I don't know
If you say
you don't know something, but you do,
it's the same thing as a lie.
Do you agree that the ad
conveys that your product
can help smokers quit smoking cigarettes?
- This is the pattern of action
- You try to get around FDA regulations.
The vibe in the room
that day was clearly
that JUUL was responsible
for a health crisis
and should be held accountable for that.
Here I was,
watching this billionaire founder
telling the truth in some ways,
but then not being candid in other ways.
People did not have
the stomach or appetite
to let them continue doing
what they were doing.
That's why you saw
so much anger at the hearing.
I just want to tell you
You, sir, are an example
to me of the worst of the Bay Area.
You're nothing but a marketer of a poison,
and your target has been young people.
I yield back.
I believe that it's the government's
responsibility to protect children.
This hearing is adjourned.
That's why we made it very clear to JUUL,
our kids are not for sale.
It's easy
for politicians to say
they're protecting kids
by taking on Big Tobacco.
But at the end of the day,
they're standing between smokers
and a potential
life-saving route away from smoking.
I don't see it as political theater,
I see it as the proper and judicious use
of a government organ.
Holding liable and accountable
those who do misdeeds.
Everyone at the company
was very focused on,
"We need to take charge
of youth prevention."
"We can't just let
the government figure it out."
We are spending 80 hours a week
doing nothing but thinking about
teen vaping and how to solve it.
And I remember thinking,
"We can only go up from here."
I vaped a lot.
It never left my hand.
It showed, for sure.
I looked dead,
and it's because I was constantly
intaking something that wasn't air.
The end of my senior year is when
the progressive symptoms began happening.
It was very gradual,
so I took it as, "You're just sick."
It wasn't big until
every day got worse.
The first symptom I had
was slight throat pain.
Next day, further down to the chest,
and it just went downhill from there.
I was in so much pain that I had to crouch
because the deep breaths, I couldn't do.
A step hurt to take,
and I could not eat anything.
If I did, it would come right back up.
I was told
I looked like a walking skeleton.
I said to my mom, "I feel like I'm dying.
Like, genuinely, I feel like I'm dying."
Going to the hospital
was a very big blur, but
I remember waking up in an ICU bed,
with my family by my side, um
It was just a really hard experience
to go through, you know
You don't know what's going on,
and you're so sick to a point where
you're in your own little world of pain.
And I was going through
respiratory failure,
so I essentially could have died
in that moment.
I was on call that weekend
at Children's Wisconsin,
and we thought it was going to
be a pretty quiet weekend,
but by the time we realized we had four,
and probably five, of these kids,
all of them with the same symptoms,
fever, cough,
shortness of breath, and fatigue
this was just not coincidental.
And when antibiotics weren't working,
then it was,
"Let's move on to the next step
and try to figure this out."
And what all five of the teens
had in common
was that they had been vaping.
A children's hospital in Wisconsin
is sounding an alarm
about serious health problems
linked to vaping.
Eight teenagers were admitted
just this month with serious lung damage.
A fourth death has been reported
from a severe lung illness
linked to vaping.
Six deaths
have been confirmed
in California, Illinois, Indiana
43 confirmed cases
69 confirmed cases
of hospitalizations
127 people in 15 States
are seriously ill with lung damage
It was eventually known
as EVALI, which stands for
"E-cigarette or Vaping Product
Use-Associated Lung Injury."
This was related to vaping.
That was all we knew.
The CDC and others
are racing to figure out why.
I was with my friend,
and I told her,
"I keep on feeling
this sharp pain in my chest."
It's almost like a needle,
plucking at my chest once in a while."
We go over the children's hospital.
I think they're going to do
an X-ray or an EKG
and tell me,
"Everything's okay. Here's a Tylenol."
And then a team of surgeons run into
this room, screaming at me to wake up,
saying, "We need to rush you into surgery.
Your lung collapsed."
I said, "Can I call my dad?"
They said, "You can, but he's not gonna
be here in time for what we have to do."
I hear the tube go into my chest,
and it sounded like branches
being stepped on.
Yeah, sorry.
And I thought, "If I'm gonna die,
I'm gonna record everything."
"Everyone will know how I went out."
That's when things started to take off.
I remember being overwhelmed
with the amount of people
that were flooding my messages.
I've never seen anything like it before.
People were sending me videos of them
destroying their vapes and JUULs.
A lot of my friends wanted
to quit out of just being scared.
All the headlines said
it was linked to JUUL,
and with so many people getting sick,
I think it really caused a panic.
The only goal I have now
is to spread the word
and make sure no one
has to go through this again.
There were huge protests
outside of the office.
That's scary as an employee
because I didn't want
to be a part of a company
that had a connotation
that was associated with killing people.
I don't think anyone
would want to be a part of that.
We are taking our lives back.
I'm getting rotten eggs
thrown at me. "Yo, kid killer!"
I realized real fast,
if I go anywhere with anything
that says "JUUL,"
I might get beaten.
JUUL is getting richer
while kids are getting sicker!
I thought that JUULing was safer
than smoking regular cigarettes.
I was wrong.
It was like a wave
had swept over, and everyone was like,
"I don't know if I want to vape anymore."
JUUL Labs CEO Kevin Burns.
He's responding to the growing number
of breathing illness cases
in people who vape.
I can't imagine we had the data to support
that we're selling a product that is
damaging to the American public,
and we had that data,
that we'd continue to sell that product.
I ask is because the tobacco industry
doesn't have a great track record
when it comes to telling the truth to
Americans about what they're selling.
Do you understand why people find it hard
to trust you? You also sell nicotine.
Sure. Sure.
It's a lot of association
that comes with that,
in terms of being in nicotine business.
I understand.
People came to me and said,
"Robbie, could that happen to me?"
I didn't necessarily know myself.
JUUL was such a young product,
we didn't have that ten-year data to say
definitively that it was not the issue.
as the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention
says that it has identified
a chemical of concern
in the deadly vaping outbreak.
Vitamin E acetate
may be linked to the national outbreak
that sickened thousands
across the United States.
They collected all of these
bronchoscopy samples,
and vitamin E was found
in the vast majority of them.
It's a thicker liquid,
sort of like a mineral oil,
which is why inhaling it
causes so many problems in the lungs.
Vitamin E oil looks
just like THC.
You can get it right at a drugstore.
You can take empty,
old discarded cartridges
and fill them with vitamin E oil,
and say that they're THC.
It had nothing to do with JUUL.
For me, it didn't take very long
before JUULing got old,
and I was like,
"Oh, let's try something different."
THC is a whole 'nother world.
The flavors,
the holographic designs on their boxes,
tailoring to what we wanted to see.
Everyone had them.
I thought to myself,
"It must be safe, right?"
Brothers Tyler
and Jacob Huffhines
sat at the same table in court Thursday,
charged with manufacturing
tens of thousands
of illegal THC vape cartridges.
We as a brand had problems
with counterfeit products.
You can take JUUL
and put any pod in it that you want.
It's what's in the cartridge that is
what is going to cause harm to you,
not the JUUL itself.
Good news for JUUL that
the scrutiny now is going to land on
black market THC as opposed to teens,
who are vaping from a JUUL.
These people weren't using JUUL
or using conventional
nicotine vaping products,
but that didn't get out in the media.
Even though this lung illness outbreak
is apparently tied to THC,
it doesn't matter. In people's minds,
it's all the same, it's vaping
Even when it comes out that,
actually, the problem is not JUUL,
the narrative that JUULing is bad for you
becomes really hard to shake.
Maybe they wouldn't
bring up JUUL's name,
but the videos that they were using
and the background imagery
were all JUUL products.
So, psychologically, people at home
were connecting these
tragic circumstances to JUUL.
News companies
aren't going back and saying,
"By the way, JUUL didn't cause
any of those deaths."
Fact checks never go as viral
as the lie.
People read the headline, not the article,
and once that headline is in their mind,
that's what they'll believe.
Being the biggest in your space
is dangerous
because when people need a story to tell,
they will tell it about you.
What we don't know may,
in fact, really hurt us
What gets attention
is very much a product of the media.
It can create genuine concern,
it can create false concern.
JUUL got unfairly blamed
for these diseases
caused by something else.
Even after it started to become clear
that most EVALI cases
were linked to vitamin E acetate,
the CDC seemed very hesitant
to clear JUUL's name.
What we're recommending is,
if you're concerned
about your health risks
in light of this investigation,
that you consider
not using e-cigarettes or vaping products
To some people, that seemed like
the CDC was taking this as an opportunity
to make people quit vaping
whether it was because of JUUL or not.
North Carolina suing
the e-cigarette maker JUUL.
The Office of the Attorney General
is launching an investigation
into JUUL Laboratories
A comprehensive lawsuit
President Trump proposing a ban
on the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes.
We're using the power
of the Minnesota Attorney General
to bring a lawsuit against JUUL Labs
on behalf of the state
and the people of Minnesota.
Everything was coming at us everywhere,
all the time.
It was like, "Do we need one more thing?
We're trying so hard here."
New York, Michigan,
they were going to take all
flavored vaping products off the market.
People say JUUL is toxic.
Is it?
The product or the company?
And he was on television,
and Kevin came off looking disingenuous.
People say the long-term effects of vaping
are not known. That's true.
That's true. That's a true statement.
Then how can you sell it every day?
Aren't you selling first
and asking questions later?
We think we have a product
It didn't present well.
It was believed that he hurt the company
and reputation more than he helped it.
All of this together has led
to this terrible misperception
about the dangers of vaping.
More than half,
perhaps as many as 75% of Americans,
think that e-cigarettes are more dangerous
or as dangerous as combustible tobacco.
Now, there is no reputable scientist,
not one, who would tell you that's true.
We know more bad things
about e-cigarettes today
than we did five years ago.
There are many adverse
health effects of e-cigarettes.
The machine is detecting a higher velocity
of flow through these vessels.
The animals' arteries stiffened
almost as much as those exposed
to cigarette smoke over the same time.
One has to be really careful
to generalize from animals to humans.
We did one of the first studies
of the toxins in e-cigarettes,
and we found that it had almost none
of the carcinogens in cigarettes.
For about two hours,
the NYU team simulated
smoking four packs of cigarettes.
Oh, the aroma. Do you smell that?
The differences were plain to see.
- So this right here, this is tar.
- Yes.
The vapor from a coffee-flavored e-liquid,
not so much.
There's a little dampness.
- Smells like coffee.
- Yes.
Millions of people around the world
using e-cigarettes,
there is not one documented death
from an e-cigarette.
They're probably less carcinogenic
than a cigarette.
But that's like saying
jumping out of the 15th story
isn't as dangerous
as jumping out of the 50th story.
It's not black and white.
Both sides need to acknowledge that
and try to figure out a way
to have some kind of common grounds.
But obviously that hasn't happened.
It's not surprising
that the public health community
is divided on this.
They are so desperate
for a genuine solution,
and have been fooled so often by low tars,
and lights, and ultra lights, and filters.
That has led to suspicion,
rightly or wrongly,
that even when something
truly safer comes along,
how can we trust this industry?
What they're united on is that
the cigarette is
the world's deadliest product.
We need to find some exit from that.
Is JUUL the great savior,
or is this just the next new gimmick?
Darsana Capital has cut JUUL's valuation
by more than a third.
2019 was a disastrous year
for JUUL, financially.
From week to week,
they could see the numbers falling.
There is a major shake-up
underway this morning
at e-cigarette giant JUUL Labs.
The company's CEO, Kevin Burns,
is being replaced.
There was an all-hands meeting,
and it was short and sweet.
"I'm going to spend more time
with my family. I'm out."
I don't think so.
He was fired. Come on,
spend more time with his children?
It was announced
that he had picked his replacement,
and that it was K.C. Crosthwaite.
Who the heck is K.C.? I had never
heard of him. I didn't know who he was.
Philip Morris.
Of course,
so many of us feeling suspicious.
Big Tobacco exec coming in.
To a lot of people, it felt like
this was always in the plan.
People were very upset.
Like, "This is our CEO?
I can't work here anymore."
He talked a lot about
if we wanted to achieve the mission,
we needed to have public trust.
And a lot of us were like,
"Yeah, no shit."
"This is why we were suspicious
of you and the Altria deal."
The fundamental thesis of our company
is not changing
It's like none of the things
we were promised ever came to fruition,
and the things everybody would have feared
did start to happen.
When K.C. took over,
there were people who came in
who were tobacco executives.
They had been working for this company
that I considered to be the root of evil.
A lot of the original people
that were
at the start-up at the beginning had left.
Neither James nor Adam was playing
a key role in JUUL by this point.
And now, with someone
from Altria coming in,
they were even more marginalized
within the company.
K.C. Crosthwaite decided
to move James and Adam
into what he called a "Founders Office."
No such thing as
a Founders Office. Never heard that term.
It came across as
they're being pushed out.
K.C.'s directive
was "Right JUUL's Path,"
and Adam and James' influence
was seen as a distraction from that.
Adam made the decision
that he was ready to leave JUUL.
There was no big announcement.
He was ready to put
the JUUL chapter behind him.
And not long after,
James sent a company-wide memo.
That was the turning point.
Old JUUL was gone.
We believed that this was
going to change the world for the better,
and to see it reduced to where it was,
puppet-mastered by Big Tobacco
It was just too much for him to bear.
James was seeing JUUL become
something he didn't envision it to be,
and it was like, "Maybe this is
the best time to walk away."
I felt badly for him
because it had been something
he worked so tirelessly on,
and it was such
a big part of his identity.
James' departure
was the last step in its transition
to a company that looked
fairly indistinguishable
from the tobacco industry that it
had originally sought to disrupt.
You initially think
you're saving the world,
and then all of a sudden,
people are saying, "No, you're the devil."
Is it even possible
to make a safe cigarette?
The ultimate tragedy
in the tortured story of JUUL
is, wow, 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.
The tragedy isn't the product
that they produced,
the tragedy is that they then engaged
in advertising, marketing, and promotion
coupled with a product
that did a better job of delivering
an addictive drug that appealed to kids,
whether they intended it or not.
And by doing that, they blew up
all the progress that was being made.
That is the ultimate tragedy.
JUUL will always go down
as the case study
of when a company moves fast,
it breaks things,
and cannot recover as a result.
The mission was perverted
by an incredible,
astronomical potential for wealth.
It was greed. Pure, unadulterated greed.
"Fuck it, ship it"
may work well
if we're talking about
an iPhone or a toaster,
but it's not really appropriate
when we're talking about
chemicals going into the lungs.
If I had a crystal ball
and could have seen the underage usage
take off like it did,
I'd have done something to stop it.
But none of us have crystal balls.
People say, "Our products are being used
in ways we didn't anticipate."
It's like,
"You should have, that's your job."
"You should have anticipated
those things and solved them,
and otherwise,
you should not have put these out
in front of thousands,
millions, billions of people."
It was the perfect news story,
guaranteed to get you views
guaranteed to get you clicks.
No one could stop talking about it
and doing their advertising for them.
Even this documentary
is doing it right now.
We're going to show the Vaporized campaign
to potential teenage users.
JUUL Labs isn't Big Tobacco.
We are here to eliminate its product,
the cigarette.
It's political theater. Show upset moms
that he's got this issue under control.
Adults make their own decisions.
They have developed brains.
But our kids have to be protected.
As a vaper, who is standing up for me?
We can't completely help
35 million adults,
and completely ignore
protecting our teens.
But it's not either/or, it's both/and.
So we have to keep our eye on the prize.
Adam and James demonstrated
vaping is an alternative.
You will see your grandmother
finally quit smoking.
You will understand why this is important.
They better use me as
a test study,
'cause been doing it from day one.
One reason why
I haven't really tried to quit yet
is because I haven't wanted to.
Right now I'm 24,
and I like to go out with my friends,
and it's just not something I feel like
I need to change in my lifestyle yet.
Wake up ♪
You're getting high on your own supply ♪
Oh, baby ♪
You're still alive
When you could have died ♪
Oh ♪
The world is not around because of you ♪
You know I'm not around because of you ♪
You've got a mouthful of diamonds ♪
And pocketful of secrets ♪
I know you're never telling anyone ♪
Because the patterns
They control your mind ♪
Those patterns take away my time ♪
Hello, goodbye ♪
Wasted ♪
You tell the truth
When you could've lied ♪
And troubles ♪
Are on the rise
'Cause you're in disguise ♪
Oh ♪
And if it isn't me ♪
Then pack your bags and leave ♪
I wish I could believe blue devils
Won't take you back ♪
Out to the salty sea ♪
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