(Aleksandr Yu / Shutterstock)
Grant Fuhrman, a rising novice at a private high school in New York City, is worried about his classmates. He estimates that about a quarter of them are hooked on Juul. They do it in the classroom, breathing out their sleeves or backpacks. blowing billowing clouds in the bathroom. They circulate memes on Instagram and elsewhere, like this petition to remove the toilets from Juul Rooms, which would be pretty funny, if not for the fact that Fuhrman says he knows a 5th grade like Juuls. [1
We are in a SoHo pocket park, where Fuhrman's mother helps stage a rally outside Juul's 6th Avenue headquarters, along with about a dozen other members of Parents Against Vaping E-Cigarettes (PAVE).
The group was formed by a trio of troubled Manhattan mothers who feared that their teenage sons would be swept up in the phenomenon. This summer, they testified before Congress about Juul's alleged deceptive marketing practices, claiming that the company has resorted to Big Tobacco style to perpetuate "the most serious youth public health crisis the country has been facing for decades." (Juul is 35% owned by the Marlboro manufacturer Altria.)
Their focus today is a bill in the city council, which would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and pods throughout five borou GHS. The legislation has received 21 co-sponsors since it was introduced earlier this year. It does not have a hearing date yet, but is currently going through the legislative process, according to Speaker Corey Johnson, even a recent convert from Juul.
"Flavored e-cigarettes give big tobacco free control to hook a generation of children on nicotine products," a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio told Gothamist. "It's time we say that enough is enough and protect the health and safety of our children."
Mark Levine, the main sponsor of the bill, clarified that the bill is focused only on the flavors "we know are kids," adding that "no one talks about a blanket ban on gunfire." In fact, some localities begin to talk about such drastic measures, after San Francisco took the unprecedented step of banning all vapes in the city earlier this summer.
Although the City Council's legislation was halted by a direct ban, it could have costly consequences for the gun industry, a $ 2.5 billion business in the United States. For Juul, this would prevent them from selling the widely popular mint pods in stores. Other e-cigar suppliers, which sell flavors like bubble gum or chocolate cake, would see most of their shares barred. A vape advocate liked the proposal with "Armageddon."
Earlier this morning, Parents Against Arms e-cigarettes (PAVe) organized a meeting outside Juuls Soho headquarters asking for a ban on flavored buns, including mint. Angry vape advocates emerged and interrupted pic.twitter.com/DrrgCAvM4S
– Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) August 20, 2019
Following a press conference, a PR representative for Juul reporters targeted a handful "switchers" – people who could talk about the impact of the bill on their lives.
Michael Bowers, who owns two vape shops in Westchester, said many of his older customers are turning to flavors to escape the smell and taste of cigarettes. Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, described the proposal as a "modern ban," which corresponds to marijuana laws.
The pro-vape crowd stationed itself on the outskirts of the rally and occasionally talked about the opponents. When Meredith Berkman, one of the founders of PAVE, obtained advice related to a recent plethora of "vaping-associated" hospital admissions, a member of a consumer advocacy group interrupted the Vaping Legion to blame for the unregulated THC cartridges.
"We don't even know what these kids ingest," Berkman replied. "We don't want our kids to be human guinea pigs." The Center for Disease Control notes that Juuls contains very high levels of nicotine, which is not in itself a carcinogen, but can still damage young brains. The aerosol used by Juul and other e-cigar manufacturers also contains harmful ingredients, but significantly less than traditional combustible cigarettes.
Juul has for years claimed that their vapor products are exclusively aimed at helping adult smokers kick the habit. They admit that "flavorful products that appeal to adults can also appeal to youth," but have promised to take a number of initiatives to solve the problem. For example, non-menthol and non-tobacco flavors like Mango and Creme are no longer available in stores, and the company shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts ("Kids handle marketing with memes," Fuhrman says.)  In a statement a company spokesman said they had never marketed their products to youth. "We do not want or need new non-nicotine users. Our market is the over 1 billion adult smokers worldwide who should have the opportunity to switch to vapor products if they wish," the spokesman said.
Both children and parents say it is not enough. "Everyone starts with the flavoring pods," notes Phillip Fuhrman, Grant's 16-year-old brother, who says he became addicted to mint before his mother found his stash and forced him to quit. "Withdrawal of nicotine is so difficult to endure."
According to Fuhrman, as long as taste buds are available to adults, underage children will find a way to get their hands on them: "When you ask a teenager not to do anything, it just makes them want to do it more."