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At a time when abortion rights in America are under assault, mass shootings have become a near-daily occurrence, and inflation is out of control, the Biden administration is expending a weirdly large amount of energy on an entirely separate issue: regulating the shit out of nicotine.
In April, the FDA proposed a rule that would prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes. In June, it floated a plan to slash the amount of nicotine cigarettes can legally contain by 95 percent. And two days later, on June 23, it banned the sale of Juul products in the US, citing "insufficient and conflicting data" in the company's application for market authorization. Juul successfully appealed the FDA’s decision in federal court, and its vapes and pods were back on the market within 24 hours. Somewhat confusingly, the FDA then stayed its own ruling against Juul pending “additional review,” which, in layman’s terms, just means it hit pause on the ban while it looks over Juul’s application to keep selling its products.
For now, you can still buy Juuls and pods in the US. But the whole debacle has left folks who Juul with a few pressing questions. Namely: Are we in for another ban? And what, if anything, should be done to prepare for that?VICE consulted a tobacco policy expert and a few longtime Juul users about the best ways to brace yourself for a (potential) Juul apocalypse. We hope it’s a comfort to all who rip the stick and that it clears up a few points of confusion. Such as:
You probably don’t need to do that—at least not immediately. Cliff Douglas, the director of the University of Michigan’s Tobacco Research Network, said he doesn’t see Juul leaving store shelves anytime soon. The FDA’s current policy on Juul should stay in place for several months “at a minimum,” and that could stretch to a year or more.“I suspect Juul will be around for a while. These things tend to take a long time,” Douglas said. “[The FDA] has a lot of balls in the air around the menthol ban, its proposed reduction of nicotine to non-addictive levels in cigarettes, the continued PMTA [premarket tobacco product application] process, other pending applications, synthetic nicotine—there’s just a lot on its plate.”
Should I freak out and buy as many Juul pods as I possibly can, like, right now?
On top of all that, the FDA has to take a second, more granular look at Juul’s application for market authorization. That application is more than 250,000 pages long and includes thousands of pages of data and other research materials, according to the Wall Street Journal. The FDA wouldn’t make another move until its review is complete, and that’s going to take some time.
You certainly can! Juuls and pods are still available in gas stations, vape shops, corner stores, and other spots that sell nicotine products across the country. If you do decide to start hoarding pods, you won’t be alone. The r/juul subreddit is filled with photos of massive hauls posted by folks worried that the FDA’s ban on Juul might go back into effect.
But what if I want to stockpile Juul pods anyway?
On the day news of the ban broke, Nick Lazenby, a 31-year-old IT consultant in Kansas City, Missouri, went into “fight or flight” mode, he told VICE. Suffering from a case of “nicotine brain,” he decided to scour his neighborhood for as many Juul pods as he could get his hands on. He wound up buying $600 worth, or about 120 pods.“At the end of the day, whether you buy all of your pods today or you buy them over the course of a year, you’re still spending all that money,” Lazenby said. Juul pods don’t have an expiration date, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll keep indefinitely. Juul’s website notes that its pods are “meant to be used soon after purchase.” After a year, according to the company, “you may notice the flavor or quality decrease.” If you’re stockpiling pods, Juul recommends storing them somewhere dry at room temperature and leaving them unopened.
Douglas, the tobacco policy expert, believes that’s unlikely. The FDA grants market authorization to e-cigarettes it deems “appropriate for the protection of the public health,” which basically just means a product benefits adult smokers looking to kick their habit more than it poses a risk to those smokers and the rest of the population. “Based on the science,” Douglas said, Juul products appear to meet that threshold. And even if the FDA tries to ban them again, Juul has a good shot at overturning that ban in court. “I do think the odds are that Juul will be on the market,” he said. “I think that they’re likely to have at least some part of their menu of products upheld one way or another.”
What should I do if Juul gets banned again?
If we do find ourselves in a world without Juul, the important thing is to avoid going back to smoking cigs, Douglas said. The best option, of course, would be to quit consuming nicotine entirely. But if you can’t manage that, consider pivoting to a different e-cigarette or some other alternative source of nicotine, like patches or gum. “Turn to those before you continue smoking your Marlboro,” Douglas said. “On your way, hopefully, to the most benign option possible.”If you’re thinking of switching to a new e-cig, Douglas recommends beginning your search by consulting the list of products granted market authorization by the FDA. But for some Juul enthusiasts, swapping it out for something similar might be challenging. Zackrea Hodge, a 25-year-old crypto trader in Leitchfield, Kentucky, was a pack-a-day smoker from 16 to 21. “I tried multiple ways to quit and nothing worked,” he told VICE. “I picked up a Juul and literally quit smoking that same week. Haven’t touched a cig since.”Hodge said he’s tried about 30 different types of devices and juices over the past four years, but for him, “nothing came close to Juul.” If its products disappear from the US market, he plans to try to quit nicotine full-stop, he said. But for now, he’s building up a reserve. He recently purchased about 100 pods, which cost him roughly $450. Whether the FDA ban goes back into effect or not, Douglas said, Juul smokers should try to stick to two options: Quit if you can swing it, but opt for harm reduction if you can’t.“In every case possible, [you want] people to quit everything as soon as they can,” Douglas said. “But for the many who can’t—because it’s a small percentage who, in a given year, succeed—[you want] to offer alternatives. It’s the basis for needle exchanges. It’s the basis for methadone. It’s honestly the basis, harm reduction, for seatbelts and airbags in cars.”Drew Schwartz is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow him on Twitter.