Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Juul, the company with more than 70 percent of the e-cigarette share in the United States, has agreed to stop selling its flavored pods in stores and to shut down its social media campaigns.
The e-cigarette company made this announcement on Tuesday, in the face of a recent decision from the Food and Drug Administration to ban flavored e-cigarettes in gas stations and convenience stores.
"We don't want anyone who doesn't smoke, or already use nicotine, to use JUUL products," the company said in a press release. "We certainly don't want youth using the product. It is bad for public health, and it is bad for our mission."
Many anticipate that the FDA will move forward with a plan to beef up online sales age verification requirements for flavored e-cigarettes.
The move to stop in-store sales came a month after the FDA raided Juul's San Francisco headquarters looking for marketing documents that show the company targeted minors. For some, though, this move won't do much to keep the e-cigarette out of the hands of kids.
"Juul's social media marketing fueled its popularity with kids," Caroline Renzulli, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The New York Times. "Now that it has captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its young customers are doing it for them."
Juul said it will ramp up its "secret shopper" program of "500 visits per month to roughly 2,000 per month," to ensure retailers have stopped selling flavored e-cigarettes.
The company will also move "to remove ourselves entirely from participation in the social conversation, we have decided to shut down our U.S.-based social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram."
Juul may have been marketing to teens
While Juul said it was only marketing to adults, a recent survey found that people aged 15-17 were 16 times more likely to be current users than those between the ages of 25 and 34 -- with 11.2 percent of the younger age group telling researchers they'd used the device.
The survey also found that 56 percent of people aged 15-17 had used the device on three or more of the previous 30 days, and nearly half used it on 10 days.
The survey, conducted by the anti-smoking group Truth Initiative, did not surprise researchers of the organization.
Robin Koval, CEO and president of the organization, told UPI that with the device's growing popularity "the use of Juul among young people could very well be higher now than in our sample."
"Unfortunately, Juul has done an excellent job of making its product seem cool to young people, despite their claims that it's for 'adults only,'" Koval said. "Young people need to know how Juul is taking a page out of Big Tobacco's playbook and manipulating and monetizing them and the only thing they end up with is an addiction."
A study published in June by Georgia State University researchers analyzed sales and marketing campaigns on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, finding the social media efforts relied on "artsy, professional-grade photographs to display its products and evoke lifestyle feelings such as relaxation, freedom and sex appeal."
"We saw posts about using Juul or seeing someone else use Juul in elementary, middle or high school. Posts talked about using Juul in a school bathroom or at recess, and even in gym class," said lead study author Jon-Patrick Allem, a professor in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, which also published a study on the device in June.
These ads appealed to teens, researchers found in the study, which found more more than 1 in 25 tweets -- of about 80,000 related to the device -- came from students using it during school hours.
Teens unaware of nicotine content
Yet, some Americans view e-cigarettes as a less bad alternative to traditional cigarettes because they have helped adults stop smoking traditional cigarettes.
FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said officials threatened e-cigarette companies to take their products off store shelves if they couldn't reduce teen sales. In compliance with that demand, Altria announced last month it would stop selling its flavored e-cigarettes and reduce sales of tobacco products, along with supporting an age increase for all tobacco sales to 21-years-old.
A January report from the National Academies said that while e-cigarettes made help adults quit smoking cigarettes, they may also lead to kids to start smoking them.
"For us to successfully fulfill our mission of helping adult smokers, we must be trusted -- and we must earn that trust. That starts with action, not words," a statement from Juul read.