In October 2019, JUUL, one of the most popular e-cigarette brands at the time, announced that they would stop selling several popular flavored pods including Mango, Fruit, Cucumber, and Creme. The goal of this action was to reduce the appeal that these flavored pod systems had on young people.
Unfortunately, by the time JUUL suspended the sale of these flavors, teens and young adults were already hooked. According to the Truth Initiative, some young people have turned to social media platforms like Reddit in an attempt to find banned e-cigarette products or find loopholes in FDA guidelines.
The report doesn’t come as a shock, especially considering the fact that suspending the legal sale of any substance has never truly stopped people from getting their hands on it. The United States saw this with both alcohol prohibition and marijuana. However, purchasing illicit e-cigarettes and e-liquids is particularly dangerous because you never know what you’re going to get.
Why Were Some E-Cigarette Products Banned, Anyway?
Most of the FDA bans surrounding e-cigarette products have to do with flavored vape juices. Sweet and fruity flavors attract young people, and many young people cite flavor being one of the reasons why they started vaping in the first place.
Youth vaping is extremely concerning because vape juices contain nicotine and are highly addictive. They deliver more nicotine per hit than cigarettes do. Nicotine can have detrimental effects on the developing brain. The CDC explains that using nicotine at a young age can harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. Using nicotine at a young age can also increase the risk of future addiction to cigarettes and other drugs.
In an attempt to curb youth vaping, the FDA has stepped in to ban some flavored vape juices.
Many Flavored Vape Juices Remain on the Market
The FDA policy only prohibits flavored juices that use closed-system e-liquid cartridges, such as JUUL, myBlu, and Alto vape pods. The policy does not prohibit menthol flavors or flavored juices in disposable vapes (like PuffBar) or juices that are sold by themselves that are used in refillable vaping devices.
Due to loopholes like these in the legislation, many young people who once used JUUL have now switched over to another type of vaping device that can provide them with the flavors they desire. Many searched on social media to find advice on disposable and refillable substitute brands while others looked to social media to buy counterfeit products.
The Dangers of Buying Vaping Devices and Liquids on Social Media
Almost everyone is on social media, and social media platforms can be extremely useful, entertaining parts of life. There are a lot of dangers lurking there too, though.
Buying any illicit substance online is extremely risky. First, you will either must meet up with a stranger or give them personal information (such as your mailing address), both of which can put your personal safety at risk.
You also never know what you’re going to get when you purchase something illegally–whether you do so online or in person. Instead of vape juice, you could receive something as harmless as cooking oil or something as dangerous as a juice containing vitamin E acetate, a harmful chemical that is linked to lung injury and other acute vaping-related illnesses.
Since JUUL and other closed-pod system device brands have ceased production of their most popular flavors, it’s likely that any pods you obtain illegally will be counterfeit–they won’t be the real thing. Sadly, there is no fool-proof way to identify counterfeit pods and juices.
Counterfeit JUUL Pods are a Serious Problem
The idea of counterfeit vape juices is not new. In fact, as early as fall 2019, shortly after JUUL was ordered to stop producing certain flavored pods, news outlets like CNBC report fake JUUL pods being sold on shelves and online. CNBC reports, “they look like the e-cigarette JUUL, they taste sort of like JUUL, but they’re not JUUL.” 
As of 2019, law enforcement had already raided 15 factories in China that were manufacturing these pods, seizing hundreds and thousands of counterfeit JUUL products. In 2021, Chinese labs continued to be shut down, and JUUL Labs released a statement announcing their support behind the seizure of counterfeit products. 
Whether you’re finding vape products online or buying them in stores, vaping is not healthy for you, especially if you are young. If you or someone you love is ready to stop vaping, know that there are resources available to you. First, consider talking with your doctor about quitting to get a personalized care plan recommended to you.