By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
We are no strangers to the strategically placed in advertising. We have seen it all: the altered appearances of young, attractive people having fun in their green screen backgrounds, often highlighted with the trademark “fun and games” ideal if you purchase this product at this minute, then your brand new, fun life will begin.
The same exact phrase can be said for the advertisements under Juul Labs, the fast-growing, Los Angeles-based e-cigarette company, recently sued by the state of Massachusetts for promoting new ad campaigns targeted at individuals under the age of 30.
According to lawsuit, Juul Labs have been reported as buying out commercial time on youth-based channels, such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, to gain wider audiences, as well as visually displaying billboards depicting models within the range of 18 to 22 appearing calm, cool, and collected amidst the toxic smoke clouding like an ominous fog.
“Juul rejected an initial marketing proposal by a marketing firm it had hired, Cult Collective, that would have branded it as a technology company with a target audience of adult smokers,” Sheila Kaplan of The New York Times said earlier in February.
“The proposed campaign featured images of outdated technology like clunky telephones and joysticks, with a picture of a sleek Juul e-cigarette and the words, ‘the evolution of smoking: finally, a truly satisfying alternative,’” she said.
Throughout the latter half of the 2010s, the sudden increase in the use of Juul and Juul-based products, especially among young individuals, has become a national epidemic. This has proven time and time again that despite their ‘updated’ appearance in today’s culture, they are just as addictive as cigarettes and are just as disruptive to one’s health.
“No device right now is as worrisome as the Juul — because of both its explosion in popularity and the unusually heavy dose of nicotine it delivers,” VOX Media’s Julia Belluz said in December 2018.
In short, Juuling, just like the appearance of smoking, is not cool.
The Juul e-cigarette model itself, while designed as a new, ‘safer’ hip version of the traditional rebellious cigarette for the next generation, still contains the same harmful chemicals as its predecessor, including nicotine, inspiring the same damaging habits to continue infecting our culture.
“The Juul has two components: the e-cigarette, which holds the battery and temperature regulation system; and the “pod,” which contains e-liquid — made up of nicotine, glycerol and propylene glycol, benzoic acid, and flavorants — and is inserted into the end of the e-cigarette device,” Belluz said.
“Pods come in a variety of colors and flavors, from cucumber to creme brûlée, mango, and tobacco,” she said.
With this new “flavorful” component, as Belluz explains, consumers have another reason to become addicted — the simplicity of different tastes available in multiple Juul products would provide a much-needed twist for their dependence.
And that is not helping those who want to quit.
“The attorney general said a recent National Youth Tobacco Survey indicates that about 4.1 million U.S. high school students and 1.2 million middle school students use e-cigarettes, [where] the legal age to buy e-cigarettes is 18,” The Washington Post reported in 2020.
Though states have enacted stricter laws prohibiting underage sales of Juul Pods and similar products, these actions alone are not enough; not only have millions of teenagers under the age of 21 become addicted, but the ads promoting this idea of teens benefiting from their experiences smoking e-cigarettes are effectively convincing their audiences to do the same.
“[This] complaint includes images of young models that it claims were displayed in digital ads on websites, mobile apps and social media, [which] includes an extensive list of sites where Juul products were promoted that the lawsuit says were clearly aimed at teenagers and even younger children,” Kaplan said.
Because those ads also omit the endless short and long-term side effects associated with their products, they choose to demonstrate these idealized versions for the next generation of cigarettes — as well as the next generation of those using them — to gain more paying customers.
Juul, along with its multiple followers in the industry, are more concerned with the profits they receive rather than the health and social effects their products cause for individuals, especially those most vulnerable to the trends of the changing times.
With this lawsuit, citizens hope to help abolish the use of Juul-based products on the youth, as well as solidify the message that these new brands of cigarettes — while they may appear visually appealing — are just as addictive and harmful as their predecessors.
“As regulators scramble over what to do about Juul, one thing has become clear: many teens don’t seem to understand the potential harms of these devices,” Belluz said.
“Juul is certainly not the only super-subtle and slick e-cigarette device that may entice young people [but] for now, it’s not clear whether this is happening — but there is good reason to believe it could,” she said.