They’re called Juulers; teens who take video of themselves smoking a Juul, the vaping device that has the U.S. warning of an epidemic.
The number of Juulers in the U.S. and Canada is unknown since the company’s sales have surged 800 per cent over the past year alone, rendering all statistics void.
What industry watchers know is that after the Canadian government legalized nicotine in the flavour pods that fuel vape pens, vape stores have had a hard time keeping Juul and its competitors on the shelves.
“It’s mostly peer pressure,” explains 16-year old Cameron Prosic of Hamilton, Ont. “It’s a more of a social thing.”
Prosic is working to educate his fellow teens about the dangers of vaping. He says it’s become so prevalent in his high school that Juulers boldly vape inside the school. And while selling vape products to minors is illegal, Prosic says getting the product isn’t a problem.
WATCH: Rising health concerns as more teens use e-cigarettes
“It’s super easy,” he says. “Everybody has a friend over 18. Everybody knows a guy who has vapes at home and will sell.”
In a statement to Global News, industry-leading Juul says its product is ”for adult smokers. No minor or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL.”
Health Canada had a similar response in an email statement: “Vaping products are only appropriate for adult smokers and any use by youth is a concern.”
However, Juuling has become popular in part because the device is the size of a USB stick and the pods come in an assortment of flavours, including grape, peppermint, pinkie and Gypsy tantrum. The companies that manufacture the flavour pods are not allowed to advertise and lure minors with specific flavours, but Health Canada rules still allow them to be sold.
“What are you going to say to a kid? You shouldn’t be attracted to cotton candy, or peanut butter and jam flavour?” asks University of Waterloo tobacco researcher David Hammond. “Or you can just remove those flavours. If we’re serious about reducing use in kids you should just take out the things that appeal to them in the first place rather than just say don’t do it.”
On Thursday, in an effort to appease U.S. authorities who are threatening to put controls on the vape market, JUUL Labs announced it had filed a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission alleging the companies that manufacture the multitude of flavour pods have infringed on its patents. JUUL itself has only six flavours -Virginia tobacco, mint, mango, vanilla, fruit, and cucumber.
Hammond says those flavour pods give vaping a huge advantage over traditional cigarettes. In 2010 flavoured cigarettes were banned, a move made to reduce the number of smokers. And while it worked, he says the flavours vaping offers fills that void in the marketplace.
“The tobacco industry cannot be trusted,” says Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society. “They’re putting e-cigs on the market. They have a long history of marketing to kids. They know what works, whether it’s marketing or flavours.”
Another aspect of the new laws for vaping companies surrounds advertising. While cigarettes are no longer visible to consumers and there are no ads to be seen, vape products are now advertised openly including on the panels that hide cigarette packs.
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With the industry seemingly under attack, the Canadian Vaping Association is fighting back. The association maintains the rules adopted by the Canadian government are enough, this despite mounting evidence in the U.S. that addiction numbers among minors are rising.
Could Canada be far behind? Vaping association member Boris Giller says it’s not the industry that is luring minors to use its products.
“There are people who are marketing to children,” he says. “And you know who that is? The news – because if a child hears … on the news constantly, that all the other children are using Juul and that it’s forbidden, what do you think is going to happen?”