Researchers from the American Cancer Society found that sales by e-cigarette maker JUUL bounced back from a dip within weeks after it removed most of its flavored products from stores. In fact, sales went on to rise even higher than they were before that change was made, as buyers switched to menthol, mint, or tobacco flavors that were still in stores.
In November 2018, JUUL voluntarily removed most of its flavored products except mint/menthol and tobacco flavors from stores (but not its website). The company was under pressure from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address a sharp rise in vaping among young people, among whom JUUL is the overwhelming favorite e-cigarette. According to the FDA, most young people say flavors are the main reason they vape.
The study, published online April 16, 2020 in the American Journal of Public Health, tracked sales data of e-cigarette flavors in convenience, food, and drug stores from January 2015 through October 2019, in part to see what effect the product ban had on sales. The researchers used the Nielsen Company’s Scantrack data to look at trends for 5 categories of flavors: fruit, menthol/mint, sweet, tobacco, and “other.”
The researchers say their study shows that relying on e-cigarette companies to regulate themselves doesn’t work, because buyers will switch to other flavors or other brands.
Alex Liber, MSPH, senior scientist with the Economic & Health Policy Research program at the American Cancer Society, said, “Companies’ attempts to self-impose their own restrictions are unlikely to improve public health. JUUL’s withdrawal of fruit-flavored products was quickly offset by a combination of increased fruit-flavored sales by JUUL’s competitors and increased sales of other flavors – notably, mint/menthol – by JUUL.”
The researchers say consistent, government-set standards may be more successful at lowering the number of young people who are vaping because all companies would have to meet them.
“Our study shows when exceptions to regulatory policies are made, the market will fill the void,” said Liber. “The growth of fruit-flavored sales experienced by NJOY once JUUL stopped selling mango-flavored e-cigarettes is a striking indication of that happening. If governments exempt some e-cigarettes from a flavor regulation and not others – for example if governments exempt disposable or “open system” e-cigarettes from prohibitions on selling flavored products – we might expect consumer demand for flavored products to migrate to those types of products.”
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Flavored E-Cigarette Sales in the United States Under Self-Regulation From January 2015 Through October 2019. Published online April 16, 2020 in the American Journal of Public Health. First author Alex Liber, MSPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.