Sweeping changes at vaping giant Juul Labs were announced Wednesday, including a new CEO, a complete halt of broadcast, print and digital advertising in the U.S., and the end of lobbying efforts against a ban on vaping flavours proposed by the Trump administration.
In Canada, however, it’s business as usual.
Juul Labs Canada said in an email Wednesday that Juul Labs is a global company and “this announcement impacts the U.S. only.” It didn’t answer a question about how Juul markets its products in Canada.
Health Canada is considering imposing more stringent advertising restrictions on the vaping industry to bring it closer to the outright ban on advertising for tobacco products.
It currently prohibits vaping ads that appeal to minors, promote a lifestyle or feature testimonials.
Despite those restrictions and a variety of additional regulation from the provinces, advertising for vaping products is highly visible in corner stores in many parts in Canada, said David Hammond, a public health professor at the University of Waterloo.
“These products are modern and sleek, they have flavours like strawberry and mango and cotton candy, they’re promoted with those flavours, and they deliver a highly addictive drug (nicotine),” he said.
“Now, you put all of those things together and put them in corner stores, I would suggest it’s not a surprise it appeals to a 16- or 17-year-old kid.”
The company’s decision marks at least the second time within a year that its U.S. and Canadian marketing policies have diverged.
In November 2018, Juul said it would continue to sell mango, fruit, and cucumber flavoured vaping pods in Canadian retail outlets, despite no longer doing so south of the border because they might entice young people to use its products.
The company would not explain at the time why it seemingly saw a link between flavoured products and youth consumption in the States, but not Canada, beyond saying the two markets “are very different.”
Juul and hundreds of smaller e-cigarette companies in the U.S. are fighting for their survival as they face two public health debacles linked to vaping: a mysterious lung illness and rising use of e-cigarettes by teenagers.
Public health officials are investigating hundreds of cases of the breathing ailment but have not yet identified any one product or ingredient.
In an email, Health Canada said it is monitoring the situation in the U.S. and in Canada and is in contact with U.S. authorities to better understand the cause of the illnesses.
“Health Canada will continue to monitor all available data sources and surveillance systems and will take additional action, if warranted and as appropriate, to protect health and safety,” the email said.
Meanwhile, underage vaping has reached epidemic levels, according to top U.S. government health officials, with more than one in four high school students using e-cigarettes in the last month.
The growth in use of vaping products in Canada among young people is likely just as high, Hammond said.
“I would hope that Juul Canada would seek to protect its young consumers in the same way as in the U.S.,” he said, adding other vape companies are also using irresponsible promotions and seem to be willing to continue with it until the day it is made illegal.
“They have all pledged to prevent youth smoking yet a pledge is meaningless.”
Juul entered the Canadian market in August 2018, vowing to help Canada’s five million adult smokers quit by providing an alternative to combustible cigarettes.
It said its Juul devices, USB docking stations and flavoured vaping liquids that contain nicotine would be available for purchase in convenience stores, vape shops and on its e-commerce site.
Hammond said Juul initially offered only high-potency nicotine product in Canada and was slower in Canada than in the U.S. to give lower-dose options.
In July, Juul opened its first corporate store in Canada in Toronto. It opened its second in Edmonton two weeks ago.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2019.