Vape giant Juul is looking into opening its own vape shops, according to reports, and may already be exploring ways to squash arguments that doing so would grant greater access to its products to teens amid intense scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that the company has not made a definitive decision on whether to open the retail locations. CNBC separately cited a source as saying that Juul was weighing the decision, and both outlets said that Juul is planning to soon open a retail location in South Korea.
According to the Journal, though a final decision about the move has not been made, Juul has already hired staff for two locations in Texas. Those stores would be situated in Houston and Dallas, the paper said, after Juul decided against pursuing possible locations in Baltimore and Chicago. These stores would have age restrictions of 21 and over and would reportedly still limit the number of devices and refills that can be purchased by a single individual, as is its policy online.
Of note, the Journal also reported that Juul is attempting to get ahead of arguments that the company might increase access to its products by youth with a physical presence in cities. Despite the fact that the company would limit access to its stores to customers over 21, and that physical stores could in theory allow the company to test or monitor ways to better enforce its age restrictions, it’s possible the FDA—which has threatened to pull vape products from the market if youth vaping continues to rise—and other critics will not see it the same way.
The report also comes as Juul—which now has strong ties to Big Tobacco thanks to its controversial $12.8 billion deal with Altria—continues to publicly state its support for raising the age minimum for tobacco and e-cig products to 21. This support extends to a bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that at first glance appeared clean. However, according to an extensive Sludge report on the legislation, it “requires states to take follow-up actions that could give the tobacco industry a chance to flex its lobbying muscle and enact its regulatory wishes in states across the country.” Per Sludge:
Tucked into the bill is an update to a 1992 law, the Synar Amendment, that requires states to enact and enforce their own laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco products to people under the age of 18. The McConnell bill, which is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, would raise that age limit to 21, forcing states to update their laws in order to remain in compliance. If states are not in compliance with the Synar requirement, they could lose federal funds available through the Department of Health and Human Service’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant awards.
Senators Brian Schatz and Dick Durbin—who in April introduced their own bipartisan legislation to raise the minimum age for tobacco and e-cig products to 21, which Juul says it supports—criticized the loophole in a joint statement last week.
“[McConnell’s] bill would force each state to pass individual laws or risk losing critical substance abuse prevention and treatment funding, in the midst of an opioid epidemic,” they said. “We are proud that 14 states have already done this—but forcing state action creates a dangerous loophole that gives the tobacco industry an opening to intensify their efforts at the state level to undermine strong anti-tobacco proposals, such as regulations on flavored tobacco products. Big Tobacco’s fingerprints should be nowhere near this effort.”