This article originally appeared on VICE US
It appears that JUUL Labs, the vaping giant that has maintained a very “guys, we got this” vibe as the world of vaping has crumbled around it, is in the midst of an absolute freak-out: The company announced it would be pulling all of its advertising in the United States and will cease using the controversial “Make the Switch” slogan that its used to lure people away from cigarettes. If that weren’t enough, JUUL’s CEO, Ken Burns, is stepping down and will be replaced by an exec from Big Tobacco.
Letting go of the “Make the Switch” slogan, which has become a decorative mainstay at convenience stores and smoke shops across the country, can be seen as a tacit admission that the company may have gotten ahead of itself suggesting vaping was a superior or healthier alternative to smoking real cigarettes; in fact, JUUL’s vape juice may just be… its own proper drug.
“Make the Switch” probably never should’ve been seen as a strong marketing concept; the bar for being safer than cigarettes—the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.—is barely an inch above the ground. JUUL has yet to announce a new slogan (without any advertising, why bother?) and it’s hard to imagine how the company will pivot. Maybe the move will be to steal a line from Don Draper’s playbook of fictional fuckery (“It’s Toasted”). It doesn’t really matter, though, because nicotine is addictive and people already seem to be pretty hooked on JUUL.
JUUL has mostly managed to keep its name out of the spate of vaping-associated illnesses and deaths, as investigators focus primarily on black market and hacky THC e-cigarette cartridges as the source of the problem. The most significant drama for JUUL has involved assertions by the FDA that the company targets teenagers, and downplays nicotine vaping’s potential adverse health effects—which are, for what it’s worth, basically unknown.
While nothing about JUUL’s announcement has any real, immediate impact on people who buy and love to use JUUL’s pods (though things are veering toward doomsday prepper on the r/juul subreddit), it does seriously tarnish the virtuistic, healthy-ish image the company has long tried to portray. The series of actions make it harder to see JUUL as an escape from something that slowly kills you; JUUL, it seems, is ready to admit that it’s essentially just another drug. Or, in other words, heating up a nicotine-laden candy liquid and then inhaling that liquid as vapor into your lungs all day long, may turn out to be, uh, pretty bad for you.
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