JUULs and The High School Black Market


With e-retail sites so loosely regulated, are teens able to get a hold of JUUL devices too easily?

Teenagers are typically driven to rebel against convention in some way or another; be it through political angst or even their personal hair color. For the last five decades, smoking has been a consistently popular outlet for teenage rebellion. The FDA and legislators have been combating teen cigarette smoking for just as long, but has vaping added a new dynamic?

Teenagers are known to be creative and persistent when inspired to act. A common example of this is the age-old stratagem of paying an adult outside of a convenience store to buy their cigarettes or alcoholic beverages. Even though this is a very well-known practice, it seems little can be done to stop it entirely.

With vaping becoming the new trendy thing to do (complete with tricks and tasty flavors), it’s natural that some teenagers want in on the action. At Burr and Burton Academy in Vermont, 95% of disciplinary infractions in the Fall were related to JUULs. The JUUL offers higher doses of nicotine than traditional cigarettes in 8 fun flavors; there’s no ash or smell to worry about, and it’s all packed in what could easily be mistaken for an LED flashlight or marker. For teens with money to burn, these have become especially appealing. This poses a problem for manufacturers because the legal vaping age is set at a minimum of 18 regardless of state.

Supply and Demand

You might wonder: with all the regulations in place for vaporizers and vaping paraphernalia, how exactly do kids get a hold of these items? At one point, it was as easy as buying a can of soda. After having to issue around 40 warning letters for selling JUULs to minors at convenience stores like 7-Eleven back in March, the FDA started age-compliance checks with retailers.

Now that more eyes are on over-the-counter retailers, teens have found a more tech-oriented workaround. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit look to sites like eBay & Alibaba to make bulk purchases for reselling purposes. Teens can easily make purchases via their parents’ eBay accounts or a guest account using a prepaid credit card, purchasable in convenience stores and often given as gifts by relatives. The FDA clamping down on JUUL distribution only makes them easier to resell at a hefty premium to fellow minors.

The FDA is taking measures to discourage the sale of JUULs on sites like eBay and Alibaba, but the foreseeable efficacy of these attempts are purely speculative. This is because it’s near impossible to thoroughly limit or regulate private sales in the US. In a capitalist society, demand shapes the market, and the demand for these nifty little devices is high.

A Possible Solution

A major reason why JUUL devices can move around so freely in high schools (though established as illegal in the possession of minors) is because of their deliberately discreet and somewhat deceptive form factor. One way the market could minimize the prolonging of this issue would be to shift new devices in the direction of larger mods that are difficult to conceal, such as those manufactured by Jaybo-Wismec. This would slowly ramp down the demand for sleek, easy to obscure devices like pods and JUULs as they grow outdated and incompatible with new hardware. Demand is what moves the market, so this would be feasible as long as consumer trends move in the necessary direction.

Since this is still a relatively new problem, the fact that it has already caught the attention of regulating authorities is a good sign. Parents can rest assured that agencies such as the FDA will be working together with reputable retailers to minimize teenage exposure to nicotine. For now, parents, investors and vape advocates must remain vigilant and try to shift the market in a less risky direction.