Smoking is very, very bad. It’s in everyone’s interest to cut it back. And it looks like e-cigarettes might be helpful as smokers try to quit! And then the kids started doing it… and then the kids found the juul.
Cigarette smoking is still the No. 1 cause of preventable death in this country, killing nearly five hundred thousand people each year. (According to some studies, more than half of longtime smokers will die from smoking-related complications.) It’s incredibly hard to stop smoking; people spend lifetimes trying. Around seventy per cent of American smokers say that they want to quit, and for many of them e-cigarettes have been a godsend. But, according to a 2017 study by the C.D.C., about fifty per cent more high schoolers and middle schoolers vape than smoke. Young people have taken a technology that was supposed to help grownups stop smoking and invented a new kind of bad habit, one that they have molded in their own image. The potential public-health benefit of the e-cigarette is being eclipsed by the unsettling prospect of a generation of children who may really love to vape.
Juul’s C.E.O., Kevin Burns, who is fifty-four, has a friendly dad-who-loves-his-vacation-house demeanor. He came to Juul from Chobani last October. Burns described Juul to me as a “cigarette-killing company.” Before he accepted the job, he said, he convened an informal focus group in his kitchen with his son, who’s in high school, and a few of his son’s friends. When he asked them about vaping, three kids pulled out their Juuls. He asked them why they had these things, when they got them, how prevalent they were. He realized, he said, that he was looking at a challenge. “We have frustrations about how the product is glorified on social media,” he told me.