Juul Users Start Saying Goodbye to Their Vape of Choice

After roughly 25 years of cigarette smoking, Tim Marchman wanted to quit. And yet he didn’t want to become what he calls “a vape guy,” the kind of person who spends hours in specialty shops choosing from dozens of electronic nicotine delivery devices, many of them quite elaborate. So he settled on what struck him as the simplest option, Juul, a brand that for a time was practically synonymous with vaping.

“Juul is the default,” Mr. Marchman, an editor at the Vice Media tech and science site Motherboard, said in an interview. “It’s just plug and play.”

Unlike some other e-cigarette brands, Juul was also widely available. “In gas stations in the middle of nowhere, they have it,” Mr. Marchman said.

That is likely to change.

This week, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Juul Labs to stop selling its devices in the United States, citing insufficient and conflicting data from the company about potentially harmful chemicals that could leach out of Juul’s e-liquid pods.

Like other converts, Mr. Marchman says he has no plans to go back to tobacco after he can no longer get his favored brand of e-cigarette. Still, he wonders how the F.D.A. order will affect his habit.

“If I go out of the country, do I have to bring my vape juice with me?” said Mr. Marchman, who is 43 and lives in Philadelphia. “Where do I get it? I barely know where to get it in Philly.”

The ruling against Juul followed years of criticism about possible adverse health affects of the company’s products as well as about how it appealed to teenagers with a range of sweet flavors, including mango, crème brûlée and mint, and with youth-oriented marketing campaigns.

The precursor company to Juul Labs was started in 2007 by James Monsees and Adam Bowen, a pair of entrepreneurs who came up with the idea for a tobacco alternative while on a smoke break during their time as graduate students at Stanford University. When Juuls were first sold in 2015, the brand surged in popularity, partly on the strength of a vibrant ad campaign that showed young, attractive men and women smiling, laughing and striking poses beneath the word “Vaporized.”

By 2018, Juul had grown so popular that the brand name became a verb, with teens furtively “juuling” in high school classrooms and hallways. That same year, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, agreed to pay $13 billion for a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs.

Then came a spate of lawsuits filed by state attorneys general accusing the company of encouraging nicotine addiction among teenagers through its ad campaigns. Juul ended up paying tens of millions of dollars to settle the cases in 2019 and 2021. The company’s rise and fall, from Silicon Valley success story to public health pariah, was chronicled in the 2021 documentary “Move Fast and Vape Things” by The New York Times.

Although Juul lost business after it curtailed its advertising in the wake of the lawsuits, it remained one of the most visible and popular e-cigarette brands on the market. For Matthew Luther, 31, who lives in Detroit and repairs leather goods, the news of the ban was upsetting.

“I will definitely miss the Juuls,” Mr. Luther, 31, said. “I think they were better aesthetically. They are easy to toss in your pocket and they’re refillable.”

Like others interviewed for this article, he said he appreciated the simple design of the Juul device, which resembles a flash drive. “The ban seems backward to me,” he said.

The F.D.A. ruling arrived just as Mr. Luther had increased his use of Juul products. “I think it’s just life, stress, and I’ve been trying to quit smoking cigarettes,” he said.

Although Juul’s sales have declined in recent years, especially among teenagers who have turned to competitors like Puff Bar, the company once controlled as much as 75 percent of the market. So for many, the brand had become synonymous with vaping devices, as Kleenex is to tissues.

“When I think of e-cigs, I think of Juul,” said Jenny Mathison, who began using Juul products in 2018. It was the only nicotine alternative she had found that allowed her to kick the Marlboro habit she had acquired in high school, she added.

Ms. Mathison, 54, who lives in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and is a full-time caregiver to her disabled husband, said she would likely move on to Vuse, a competing brand.

Other Juul users are buying up the pods and stockpiling them. (Juul has asked a federal appeals court to block the F.D.A.’s order temporarily. Whether the company’s products will remain available in the interim has yet to be decided.)

For Mr. Marchman, the editor in Philadelphia, the F.D.A. action may result in his turning into the very type he has long dreaded becoming — a vape guy.

“I’m going to end up with some weird vaping rig that I don’t entirely understand,” Mr. Marchman said. “I’m going to have to pick out a device, try different juices. It’s going to be a whole thing.”

Sandra E. Garcia contributed reporting.

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