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How E-Cigarettes Took Hold In A Traditional Industry

Teenager using an e-cigarette
Source: Pexels

The history of tobacco use in Virginia is a rather complex one. After decades of being a booming industry, more and more people are turning away from traditional cigarettes and into the hands of electronic cartridges. On this episode of Full Disclosure, host Roben Farzad sits down with Sarah Milov a UVA professor and author of “The Cigarette: A Political History,”and pediatrician Dr. Danny Avula, the director of Richmond’s Health Department. Together, they discuss the public-health and policy implications of “big tobacco’s” big pivot to vaping.

Episode Excerpt

The following excerpt was edited for clarity. [21:37]

Roben Farzad: Suddenly you hear all these stories from PTA’s about students vaping down their sleeves, bathrooms becoming the vape break period. Mango flavored, creme brulee flavored Juul pods, essentially it's a way to freebase the nicotine. You can kind of take combustion, true combustion and tobacco out of the equation and it is super addictive, so much so that Altria, the biggest cigarette manufacturer in the United States, took a stake in this company at $13 billion investment at the end of 2018 for a 35% stake in Juul. Suddenly making Juul what is Silicon Valley's most valuable startup. Did that just hit you out of the blue?

Sarah Milov: No, I think that if you were paying attention, as you were, to what people were smoking a decade ago, you would have begun to notice the influence of electronic cigarettes. And you would have also noticed that there were no rules governing electronic cigarettes whatsoever. Juul was by no means the first company to pioneer these ridiculous flavors. You had those ridiculous flavors in other forms by brands we no longer remember.

Farzad: Explain that to me. How are there no rules? How can you just show up? I remember, it was when I first started noticing these in the bodegas in New York, there were 50 different manufacturers … how do you just show up and do that and assume that you're not going to have to deal with the USDA or the FDA?

Milov: Well, I think that perhaps it wasn't. I mean, you make your money when you can. Regulators are always dealing with yesterday's technology and the fact is, e-cigarettes weren't regulated by the 2009 Act that gave FDA purview over combustible cigarettes. So, fly by night operations have “made hay” while they could, and they laid the groundwork for inventive Silicon Valley disruptors that ultimately formed Juul.