Juul Ends E-Cigarette Sales of Mint-Flavored Pods

Juul Labs, the nation’s largest seller of e-cigarettes, said on Thursday that it would stop selling mint-flavored pods, which have become especially popular among teenagers.

The move precedes an anticipated federal flavor ban that is to be announced soon, one that the Food and Drug Administration initially had said would include mint as well as menthol. In recent weeks, intense lobbying by the vaping and tobacco industries against a menthol ban has heightened speculation that menthol would be exempt from any prohibitions against flavors.

Juul said on Thursday that it would continue to sell menthol pods and its two tobacco products.

The company’s decision also followed the release earlier this week of two major surveys showing another year-over-year spike in teenage vaping of e-cigarettes, and the rising popularity of mint-flavored nicotine pods as other youth-friendly flavors like unicorn milk were pulled from retail shelves. Public health experts have urged the federal government and lawmakers to impose strict limits on the variety of e-cigarettes, which remain on the market despite little evidence that they are safe.

Besides the surveys showing about 27 percent of high school students reporting that they had vaped e-cigarettes recently, hospitals and doctors have been startled in recent months by an alarming outbreak of lung injuries largely related to vaping products containing THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana. Some patients, however, have reported vaping both THC and nicotine products, leaving researchers to suggest there may be more than one culprit behind the respiratory illnesses.

Menthol was the least popular flavor, the study showed, although several public health advocates warned that with other options gone, teenagers would most likely move to menthol.

The survey showed that more than five million minors reported recent use of e-cigarettes this year, compared with 3.6 million in 2018. About one-quarter of high school students reported vaping within 30 days of the survey, up from 20 percent last year.

The study was published on Tuesday in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. It noted that nicotine exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain, which continues to form until about age 25. The study found that more than 10 percent of middle school students reported current use of e-cigarettes.

For the first time, at the insistence of the F.D.A., the survey asked students what brand of e-cigarettes they generally used. Juul was the overwhelming favorite. Fifty-nine percent of high school e-cigarette users said they usually used Juul, as did 54 percent of middle school users. The majority of e-cigarette users reported using flavored varieties, with fruit flavors being the most popular, followed by mint or menthol.

The timing of the F.D.A.’s announcement on a proposed flavor ban remained unclear. Intensive lobbying by the tobacco and vaping industries, as well as retailers, may have influenced the Trump administration to exempt menthol from any flavor ban, especially since traditional menthol cigarettes are still available for sale.

On Wednesday, Kellyanne Conway, a senior administration aide, indicated that an announcement would be made soon but also said the White House was concerned about the effect such a ban would have on businesses like vape shops.

She also noted the latest survey data and the vaping trends among teenagers.

The study in JAMA, she said, made clear that “kids report they use mint and other flavors like mango, bubble gum, tutti frutti, unicorn milk, pretty remarkable, and that they don’t care for menthol, which of course many smokers — I’m not one — say tastes like tobacco.”

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