Section: News

Students fear Market Juul pods “aren’t the same as other pods”

The Village Market still carries mint-flavored Juul pods, despite Juul’s recent announcement that they would no longer sell them. This, along with other concerns—the Village Market is not listed as a retailer on the Juul website—has led students to question the validity and safety of these pods.

On Oct. 29, 2019, a former Juul executive filed a lawsuit alleging that the electronic cigarette company knowingly shipped approximately one million contaminated mint-flavored Juul pods to retail distributors.

You can still find mint-flavored pods, however, at the Village Market.

“That’s because Juul themselves aren’t supplying them,” a student, who was granted anonymity due to health issues, said. “But it’s not illegal to sell mint. So that’s probably an old batch.”

For students without a reliable means of off-campus transportation, the Village Market is the only way for Juul users to get their pods.

“[Juul] helped me stop smoking [combustible cigarettes],” Zoë Engle ’21 said. “Recently, it’s been harder to get off campus to get pods. I’ve been spending most of my time using Market pods, but they’re kind of scary.”

Engle has found that the Market’s pods leak and drain unusually fast.

“I’ve been buying a lot more—spending a lot more money, obviously,” Engle said. “It’s just because they keep leaking. I know people who have purchased [Market pods] and give them to other people because they don’t want them. I know five people, who were heavy [Juul users] the past two years, who quit in the past two months because they feel the Market pods aren’t the same as other pods they’ve been buying.”

Engle also reports a stale taste and orange color.

“I’ve only tried the mint ones at the Market,” she said. “Mint pods are supposed to be clear, and the Market ones are this weird color. The clear ones are typically how you know you’re getting safe pods, at least that’s what I’ve been taught. With the Market, they’re all orange.”

Engle isn’t the only Juul user to report problems with pods from the Village Market. Other students have reported coughs, chest pains and stomach problems.

“I started having seizures after buying these pods and using these pods,” a student who was granted anonymity due to medical privacy, said. “I have a history with seizures, but nothing in my life had changed other than these pods. That was the only independent variable coming into my life. I started having seizures from them, and once I stopped using them, I stopped having seizures.” The student had used Juul pods for two years, and the mint-flavored pods had not previously caused them any health complications. The student also claimed that the pods tasted strange, leaked e-liquid and did not properly fit in the Juul device. Scanning the packaging’s QR code did not provide any identification of the product.

The Juul website offers a registered retail store locator, which customers can use to search for the nearest licensed retailer that carries Juul products. Four locations are registered in Mount Vernon: Cheap Tobacco, Speedway 9193, Mt. Vernon Express and Mount Vernon Marathon. No locations are displayed in Gambier, despite the fact that the Village Market has sold Juul products since the start of the semester.

The Village Market began stocking Juul products around the same time that a former Juul executive filed the lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by Juul’s former Vice President of Global Finance Siddharth Breja, states that Breja learned of a contaminated batch of “Mint Refill Kits.” The contaminated kits were traced to two batches of Juul’s e-liquid. Approximately one week later, Breja raised concerns about these kits at an executive meeting. Approximately 250,000 mint refill kits were made with contaminated e-liquid, shipped to retailers and sold to customers. According to the lawsuit, Juul increased pressure on suppliers to manufacture mint pods to meet demand.

On Nov. 7, 2019, a sub-committee of the House of Representatives demanded that Juul  turn over all documents relating to potentially contaminated e-liquid; the company is expected to produce the documents by Nov. 21, 2019.

On the date of the sub-committee hearing, Juul also announced that they would no longer sell mint-flavored pods. In a statement released on their website, current-CEO of Juul Labs K.C. Crosthwaite announced that the company would “immediately stop accepting orders from our retail partners for our mint Juul pods in the U.S. and cease sale of mint Juul pods in the U.S. through our e-commerce site.” The statement cites studies by the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey and the Monitoring the Future survey that indicated mint’s popularity among underage users as influencing the company’s decision.

The Village Market plans to stock up while they still can, according to Josh Aberman ‘20, who spoke to the cashier on duty while buying Juul pods. Village Market Manager Tim Newton, however, claims to have not known about students having problems with pods .“I have heard in the media that there are bootlegs,” Newton said. “But we’ve only ever had one source, and that’s Gummer Wholesale.”

Gummer Wholesale, Inc. operates a wholesale distribution company. The company offers fast food, drinks, groceries, cigarettes and tobacco to convenience stores, including the Village Market. When asked about reports of problematic Juul pods, Gummer’s Human Resources Department declined to comment. The Collegian also reached out to other divisions of the company for comment, but has yet to receive a reply.

Juul announced last year that, in support of the Food and Drug Administration’s initiative to reduce underage e-cigarette usage, they would halt sales of their fruit and dessert flavors—like mango, cucumber and creme brulee—in retail stores. On Oct. 17, 2019, Juul announced they would immediately halt all sales of fruit and dessert flavors on their website in response to a federal policy that would remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the consumer marketplace. However, until their separate statement that they would cease the sale of mint-flavored Juul pods, Juul continued to sell them because they were classified as menthol rather than flavored. Currently, the Juul website and retail stores only offer Virginia tobacco, classic tobacco and menthol Juul pods in the United States.

The Collegian has provided mint and menthol pods to Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Matthew Rouhier for analysis. Results are forthcoming.

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