E-cigarette startup Juul Labs plans to start releasing e-liquid options with 40 percent less nicotine this August, the company announced today. The lower-dose pods could give vapers a way to start cutting the amount of nicotine they inhale without having to take fewer puffs. But the new lower-dose pods are probably still a long way from being non-addictive — at least, if you’re going by cigarette research.
Juul Labs’ patented system delivers nicotine a lot like a cigarette — which makes the company valuable. Its latest funding round will up the company’s worth to more than $16 billion, Bloomberg recently reported. Its e-liquid JuulPods contain compounds called nicotine salts, which are also in the tobacco that’s in most cigarettes. Big Tobacco research from the 1970s reports that nicotine salts are less harsh to inhale than the free-base nicotine in cigars and many other e-cig brands. Juul makes a product that delivers a lot of nicotine, and it goes down easy.
Right now, a single JuulPod is about 5 percent nicotine — which is roughly as much nicotine as is in a pack of cigarettes, according to the company. But soon, Juul Labs will give users the option of dialing back the amount of nicotine they suck into their lungs. A limited amount of mint and Virginia tobacco flavored JuulPods that contain 3 percent nicotine should start hitting the shelves in August, the company says. A bigger release is slated for October.
That’s a 40 percent reduction, but the company carefully avoids saying whether the lower nicotine dose could smooth the way toward quitting nicotine altogether. Juul Labs frames its product as a “switching tool” to help adult smokers stop lighting up the regular kind of cigarettes. In a statement, company CEO Kevin Burns says, “We hope the availability of different nicotine strengths will continue to allow adult smokers the ability to explore what is best for them.”
A 40 percent cut probably won’t be enough to make Juuls substantially less addictive — at least, going by cigarettes as a tobacco-flavored yardstick. When the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was considering cutting the nicotine levels permitted in cigarettes, an expert told The Verge that nicotine levels would need to be cut by 85 to 95 percent to make cigarettes substantially less addictive.
The good news is that lower dose cigarettes don’t seem to drive people to smoke more; one small study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 showed that when nicotine was cut by two-thirds, people still smoked roughly the same number of cigarettes as usual. And when nicotine was cut by 85 percent, people actually smoked less.
Of course, studying how people use e-cigarettes is the only way to understand how nicotine dose affects vaping. And Juul’s new lower-dose options will be a real-world experiment.