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Juul Is Developing a New Lower-Nicotine Pod for E-Cigarettes, but That Doesn't Mean It's Healthier

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Photo: pamelaoliveras / Getty Images

Two weeks ago, Juul made headlines when it announced that it would halt its social media campaigns amid widespread criticism, including from the FDA, for marketing to youth. Sounds like a step in a good direction, right? Well, now, the company says it's developing a new pod that will have less nicotine and more vapor than its existing versions, according to a New York Times report. (Related: Are E-Cigarettes Bad for You?) But does that really make them healthier? 

Refresher: E-cigarettes like Juul are electronic devices that contain a mix of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals that users can inhale—and that have been linked to an increased cancer risk. Juul is the top-selling E-cigarette company in the U.S. and sells e-cigs that resemble USBs and come in flavors like mango and cucumber.

They might come in tempting sweet flavors, but Juul pods are high in nicotine. Most pods contain 5 percent nicotine, the same amount in 20 cigarettes, per the CDC. Juul has not revealed how much less nicotine or how much more vapor the new version will have. 

But the thing is, less nicotine isn't necessarily a win. Juul's new effort to develop a lower-nicotine pod could ultimately make its product more widespread. According to the New York Times, Juul's lowest-nicotine pod has 23 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of fluid, which still wouldn't meet the European Union's limit of 20 milligrams per milliliter.

A lower nicotine and higher vapor content won't make the pods less addictive, according to Bankole Johnson, M.D., D.Sc. "The addictive content might actually be greater," he says. "Taking the smoke in through your nose and mouth actually increases the concentration, or the rate of delivery of it to your brain. And that rate of delivery is associated with a greater likelihood of addiction." What's more, giving off more vapor could make secondhand smoke more likely, he says.

This news isn't going to help Juul get on the good side of the FDA, which has not been on good terms with the brand for some time now. The agency has been attempting to crack down on marketing e-cigarettes to adolescents in the U.S. In April, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb made a statement calling for Juul to take measures to lessen its appeal to teens. In conjunction with the statement, the FDA sent out a request for Juul to submit a collection of documents by June, including info on their marketing and how their products affect the health of young customers. 

Then in September, he followed up, this time calling for Juul to provide a plan for cutting back on Juul use among minors. This month, Juul CEO Kevin Burns released a statement saying that the company will only sell mint, tobacco, and menthol flavors in store, while its more dessert-like flavors will be restricted to online purchases. The company also shut down its U.S.-based Facebook and Instagram accounts. (Read more: What Is Juul and Is It Better for You Than Smoking?)

 

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