Outcry greets Juul store

The Prince George Citizen - - Money -

E-cig­a­rette maker Juul is open­ing its first re­tail store in Canada amid mount­ing con­cern about the brand’s role in the rise of teen va­p­ing.

The Juul store in Toronto’s west-end, which opens to cus­tomers Mon­day, marks the Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany’s first brick-and-mor­tar lo­ca­tion in North Amer­ica.

Upon en­ter­ing, Juul says all vis­i­tors will be asked to pro­vide iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to prove they meet On­tario’s le­gal age of 19 to pur­chase va­p­ing prod­ucts be­fore they can pass through the clouded glass doors con­ceal­ing the of­fer­ings from pub­lic view.

Those who gain en­try will find Juul’s de­vices and car­tridges laid out on ta­bles in the sleek show­room style of an Apple store. Pa­trons can in­ter­act with the de­vices, but not test them, be­cause va­p­ing is pro­hib­ited in­doors.

At a me­dia pre­view on Mon­day morn­ing, Michael Neder­hoff, gen­eral man­ager of Juul Labs in Canada, said the store was de­signed to be an “ed­u­ca­tional venue” for adult smok­ers look­ing to learn about va­p­ing.

But as Juul has emerged as Canada’s lead­ing va­p­ing brand, crit­ics say the com­pany is at risk of cre­at­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of nicotine ad­dicts in light of re­cent re­search sug­gest­ing that the preva­lence of teenage va­p­ing has nearly dou­bled.

In May 2018, Ot­tawa for­mally le­gal­ized va­p­ing, open­ing the door for in­ter­na­tional va­p­ing brands such as Juul to en­ter the Cana­dian mar­ket.

Since then, Juul has cap­tured a 78 per cent share of Canada’s vape mar­ket, with its prod­ucts avail­able at more than 13,000 vape shops and con­ve­nience stores across the coun­try, said Neder­hoff.

Nick Kadysh, Juul’s di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions, said the com­pany sees youth va­p­ing as “com­pletely un­ac­cept­able” and has taken steps to pre­vent its prod­ucts from get­ting into the wrong hands.

He cited ef­forts such as us­ing third-party age ver­i­fi­ca­tion for on­line sales, and send­ing secret shop­pers to check roughly 150 stores per month to make sure they’re card­ing cus­tomers and fol­low­ing Juul’s re­stric­tions on bulk pur­chases. He said re­tail­ers who don’t com­ply may ei­ther be “black­listed” or re­ported to Health Canada.

But David Ham­mond, a pub­lic health pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Water­loo, said Juul and other e-cig­a­rette mak­ers need to go fur­ther to stem the 74-per-cent surge in va­p­ing by Cana­dian teens that his re­search sug­gests.

Ham­mond led a study pub­lished in the British Med­i­cal Jour­nal in June based on on­line sur­veys of Cana­di­ans aged 16 to 19 in 2017 and 2018.

The re­searchers found that the num­ber of Cana­dian teens who said they had vaped in the last month in­creased to 14.6 per cent in 2018 from 8.4 per cent in 2017.

Ham­mond said the 2018 sur­veys strad­dled the month be­fore and af­ter Juul hit stores in Canada, and within weeks of be­com­ing avail­able, the brand had surged to be­come the third most pop­u­lar among Cana­dian teens.

He said the brand’s soar­ing sales in Canada are par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing in light of trends in the U.S., where re­searchers found the in­crease in Juul use ac­counted for more than two-thirds of the over­all rise in youth va­p­ing.

Last week, Juul ex­ec­u­tives were called be­fore U.S. Congress to field ques­tions from law­mak­ers about whether the com­pany tried to mar­ket its prod­ucts to youth.

House mem­bers pointed to in­ter­nal doc­u­ments in­di­cat­ing that Juul planned to push its prod­ucts on so­cial me­dia and of­fered fund­ing to schools for anti-va­p­ing ed­u­ca­tion in a pro­gram that was quashed af­ter the com­pany learned that big to­bacco had backed sim­i­lar anti-smok­ing ef­forts decades ear­lier.

Juul ex­ec­u­tives in Canada said nei­ther of those strate­gies were at­tempted in Canada, and the com­pany has even ad­vo­cated for Ot­tawa to ban so­cial me­dia mar­ket­ing of va­p­ing prod­ucts.

Ear­lier this year, Health Canada pro­posed new mea­sures to ban the pro­mo­tion of e-cig­a­rettes in pub­lic places, stores and me­dia where young peo­ple are likely to en­counter them, in­clud­ing point-of-sale ad­ver­tise­ments.

Kadysh said the re­stric­tion would hin­der Juul’s abil­ity to reach adult smok­ers when they’re buy­ing cig­a­rettes at their lo­cal con­ve­nience store and en­cour­age them to switch to what is be­lieved to be a less harm­ful al­ter­na­tive.

For Ham­mond, this re­luc­tance speaks vol­umes about Juul’s com­mit­ment to pre­vent­ing youth va­p­ing.

“I think it is (disin­gen­u­ous) at best for any com­pany to sug­gest that those types of ads don’t reach kids when it is lit­er­ally inches from the candy,” he said.

Ham­mond credits Juul’s pop­u­lar­ity among youth in part to the tech­nol­ogy the brand uses to de­liver a high con­cen­tra­tion of nicotine without ir­ri­tat­ing the mouth or throat.

Many com­pet­ing e-cig­a­rette brands have also adopted this tech­nol­ogy, which he be­lieves puts young peo­ple at greater risk of be­com­ing ad­dicted to nicotine. He said this may have con­trib­uted to the dramatic rise re­searchers found in rates of daily or weekly e-cig­a­rette use by Cana­dian ado­les­cents.

An­other fac­tor in Juul’s youth ap­peal may be the min­i­mal­ist design of the de­vices, which re­sem­ble a flash drive and al­low for dis­crete use without the tell­tale smell of con­ven­tional cig­a­rettes, Ham­mond added.

Last month, San Fran­cisco banned the sale of e-cig­a­rettes in a bid to curb un­der­age use. But Ham­mond said he doesn’t think pro­hi­bi­tion would be fea­si­ble or de­sir­able in Canada.

“We can ac­tu­ally con­trol these prod­ucts more by hav­ing them regulated than just try­ing to push them un­der the blan­ket,” he said. “I think it would be a shame if we had to ban them out­right be­cause of their po­ten­tial to help with adult smok­ers, but we need to find some way of re­duc­ing ac­cess to kids for sure.”

AP FILE PHOTO

In this April 16, file photo, a woman ex­hales while va­p­ing from a Juul pen e-cig­a­rette in Van­cou­ver, Wash.

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