Hooked

How Juul took over
the vaping world

How Juul took over the vaping world

By Adam Miller and James Dunne

Dec. 3, 2019

Vaping has been one of the biggest health stories of 2019. The meteoric rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, combined with growing concern about their addictive nature, has preoccupied parents and regulators alike.

The craze took off largely because of one company, Juul, which reimagined the cigarette and cornered the vaping industry. In the process, it put a new generation at risk of nicotine addiction. This is a look at how we got here.

June 2007

Drawing on their thesis project, which imagined "disrupting the worldwide cigarette industry," Stanford University design graduates Adam Bowen, left, and James Monsees found the company Ploom.

(François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images)
2010

Ploom unveils the Model One e-cigarette. It uses proprietary tobacco pods made of aluminum that are heated to deliver hits of nicotine in a handheld device that's about the size of a pen.

(Ploom)
2011

Ploom releases the Model Two e-cigarette, which has a sleeker design, more accessories and a variety of flavours, including "gold, "rocket" and "kick-ass mint."

(Ploom)
2012

The company introduces the Pax by Ploom, a vaporizer that becomes popular as a discreet way to consume cannabis. The product receives a lot of buzz in the media, becoming known as the "iPhone of vaporizers."

(Ploom)
February 2015

Ploom transforms into Pax Labs, after selling the rights to its Ploom products to Japan Tobacco International, which had been an investor in the company.

Juul co-founder Adam Bowen and chemist Chenyue Xing patent the nicotine delivery system used in the current Juul e-cigarette device. Pax also commissions a study to look at the nicotine delivery experience of the Juul compared with traditional cigarettes and other e-cigarettes on the market.

Nicotine absorption

(blood nicotine in nanograms per millilitre)

Source: Pax

June 2015

Pax Labs introduces the Juul. The device uses a new technology focused on "nicotine salts," similar to those found in tobacco leaves, which deliver close to 60 mg of nicotine. That's almost three times the concentration of the drug than in previous e-cigarettes on the market.

Nicotine content of e-cigarettes

Source: Canadian Cancer Society

December 2017

Pax Labs forms a separate company focused on cannabis vaporizers, and Juul Labs breaks off into its own company for nicotine delivery devices.

Kevin Burns joins Juul Labs as chief executive, growing the company from a few hundred employees to several thousand in 20 countries around the world.

Billionaire Nicholas Pritzker joins Juul's board. His family had previously controlled Conwood, one of the largest chewing tobacco companies in the U.S.

(Steve Jennings/Getty Images)
April 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announces it has conducted an investigation of underage sales of Juul products, and requests documents from Juul about the marketing of its products. Juul announces a strategy to take "decisive action" on underage use of e-cigarettes.

June 2018

Juul launches an awareness campaign for parents about vaping and nicotine as part of a three-year, $30-million investment to combat youth vaping.

August 2018

Juul enters the Canadian market amid controversy that it is marketing its products to youth in the U.S. Around the same time, Israel bans the import and sale of Juul, citing "a grave risk to public health" over the devices’ high nicotine content.

(Mike Blake/Reuters)
September 2018

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb calls teenage vaping an "epidemic," giving Juul and other e-cigarette makers 60 days to submit plans detailing ways to combat youth use.

October 2018

Juul inks a deal with tobacco giant Altria, which invests $12.8 billion US and takes a 35 per cent stake in the company. Juul is then valued at $38 billion after becoming the fastest company in history to reach a $10-billion valuation even faster than Facebook.

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
November 2018

Juul pulls most flavours from retail stores in the U.S. except tobacco, mint and menthol. The FDA announces it will create similar regulations around those flavours.

(Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)
June 2019

Canadian researcher David Hammond publishes a study in the British Medical Journal that finds the number of Canadian teens who said they had vaped in the last month had grown 74 per cent – from 8.4 per cent in 2017 to 14.6 per cent in 2018.

(Craig Chivers/CBC)
July 2019

Juul opens its first retail store in Canada. The Toronto outlet marks the company's first brick-and-mortar location in North America.

(Albert Leung/CBC)
August 2019

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announces it is investigating more than 90 potential cases of severe lung illnesses associated with vaping.

September 2019

Health Canada warns of the potential risk of pulmonary illness associated with vaping products and asks those who use the device to monitor themselves for symptoms.

The U.S. FDA sends a warning letter to Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns over the company's unproven claims that its devices are less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

(CBS News)

Following a late-August interview on 60 Minutes in which he said, "Don’t smoke. Don’t use Juul," Juul CEO Kevin Burns is replaced by former Altria executive K.C. Crosthwaite.

A lawsuit is launched in B.C. Supreme Court against Juul Labs Canada and Juul Labs Inc. alleging they targeted targets minors with misleading advertising by claiming their products are safer and healthier than smoking.

Donald Trump's administration announces plans to ban the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes in the U.S. Juul suspends all advertising in the U.S. and says it will not lobby the government. It continues to market and sell its products in Canada without change.

(Tom Brenner/Reuters)
October 2019

Juul falls to a $24 billion US valuation from a peak of $38 billion.

Thousands protest outside Juul's headquarters in Washington, D.C., and across the U.S. against vaping-related deaths, flavoured e-cigarettes and a lack of regulation.

(Truth Initiative)
November 2019

The Trump administration backtracks on a call for a ban on most flavoured e-cigarettes, saying it would lead to more counterfeit vaping products.

The Centers for Disease Control announces it has found a "strong culprit" into the cause of mysterious outbreak of vaping illnesses across the U.S. and Canada, concluding that vitamin E acetate causes lung damage.

(Hans Pennink/The Associated Press)

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announces sweeping new vaping regulations, including higher taxes, restrictions on sales and advertising, limits on nicotine content and constraints on packaging.

(Mike McArthur/CBC)

As of November 2019, there are 2,172 confirmed and probable lung injury cases and 42 deaths associated with the vaping illness across the U.S.

The future of Juul

So what’s next for Juul? The answer isn’t entirely clear, but the company shows no signs of slowing down.

Additional regulatory measures will likely be put in place on the marketing and sale of the devices in Canada, but a new player already has the federal government’s stamp of approval: cannabis vaping.

On Dec. 17, after vaporizable cannabis oils are legal in Canada, PAX Labs is launching the PAX Era, a device that looks almost identical to Juul and utilizes similar technology with disposable cannabis cartridges.

​Aphria is one of five cannabis companies that have partnered with Pax for the Canadian release of the device. Aphria said they expect cannabis vaping to account for 30 per cent of the entire Canadian "adult-use" market by 2021.​

(Pax Labs)
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Text: Adam Miller and James Dunne| Design and development: Richard Grasley and Dwight Friesen, CBC News Labs