Puff Bar has overtaken Juul as teenage favorite electronic cigarette

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Disposable vaporizers are now the most popular type of e-cigarette among middle school and high school students, overtaking reusable devices like Juul, according to new federal data. And the most commonly used brand — Puff Bar — is the one that has remained on the market despite a Food and Drug Administration order last year to halt sales in the United States.

About 11% of American high school students – about 1.7 million children – reported using e-cigarettes at least once in the past 30 days. The data is based on a national survey conducted online between January 18 and March 21.

Last year, about 20% of U.S. high school students, or roughly three million, reported using e-cigarettes at least once in the past 30 days. The annual study is conducted by the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said changes in methodology this year due to the pandemic made it difficult to compare with previous years.

The flavors most commonly used among young people were fruits, candies and desserts, mint and menthol, according to the survey. More than half of young e-cigarette users reported using disposable devices. Some 26% of high school vapers reported using the disposable Puff Bar brand, followed in popularity by Reynolds American Inc.’s refillable brand Vuse at 11%, Smok at 10% and Juul at 6%. Among college e-cigarette users, 30% said their usual brand was Puff Bar.

“The use of Vuse products by young people is unacceptable, and we will continue to investigate how young people access our products,” said a spokesperson for Reynolds. Vuse is intended for adults and remains “an important option for adult smokers looking for an alternative to smoking,” she said.

Juul Labs Inc. in 2018 landed in the sights of regulators when its sleek, USB-stick-shaped vaporizers became a status symbol for teens. It is the most used brand of electronic cigarettes by American high school students over the past three years. Under pressure from regulators and facing investigations into its marketing practices, Juul halted most of its advertising in the United States, closed its Facebook and Instagram accounts, and stopped selling all of its flavors in the United States except tobacco and menthol. It remains the best-selling brand of electronic cigarettes in the United States, but has lost market share to Vuse and others.

Joe Murillo, chief regulatory officer for Juul, said the company has undertaken a reset. “While millions of adult smokers have converted to our products from cigarettes, we will only be trusted to provide alternatives to adult smokers if we continue to fight underage consumption,” he said. .

Puff Bar sales surged in early 2020 when federal restrictions banned the sale of sweet and fruity e-cigarette refill pods like those from industry leader Juul Labs Inc. not be met, the original FDA flavor restrictions did not apply. for them. Underage vaping fell after these restrictions were implemented, but the use of disposable e-cigarettes among children and teens jumped.

In July last year, the FDA ordered the company to halt sales, saying its products had not been authorized by the agency.

The brand stopped sales on its website, but continued to sell in retail stores with flavors such as Watermelon, Blue Razz, and Lemon Ice. Puff Bar resumed sales on its website in February this year, claiming it had changed its ingredients and now used nicotine that was not derived from tobacco. The change could allow it to bypass the FDA. A spokeswoman for the agency said she could not comment on the status of the FDA’s investigation into the matter.

We don’t know who owns the brand. Puff Bar did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

This year’s investigation was the first to be fully conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to changes in the way the survey was conducted this year, the results are not comparable to the findings of previous surveys. This year, students answered questions through an online survey in their classrooms, at home or elsewhere. Before the pandemic, the investigation was conducted in person in classrooms.

Health officials said a significant number of young people have vaped this year despite many learning remotely and may have less access to e-cigarettes from friends or classmates. Some 2.8% of middle school students, or about 320,000, said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

“These data highlight the fact that flavored electronic cigarettes are still extremely popular with children,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA.

The findings could inform the FDA’s pending decisions on which e-cigarette products it will allow to remain in the US market. Some lawmakers and public health groups have called on the agency to ban all flavors of e-cigarettes other than tobacco.

Among the FDA’s decisions so far, the agency has removed more than a million flavored products from the market, including vaping liquids with flavors such as apple crumble, cola and cereal. cinnamon, claiming that the manufacturers had not provided sufficient evidence that their products benefited from it. adult smokers to an extent that outweighed their potential appeal to young people.

In 2017, Juul catapulted to the top of the e-cigarette market. But the company’s valuation fell just as quickly, as a series of crises led to hundreds of lawsuits alleging the company marketed its products to teenagers. Photographic illustration: Jacob Reynolds / WSJ

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com

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