As the FDA moves to ban most flavored e-cigs sold in stores, Juul pushes back harder on copycats

Love Juul or hate it, you can probably appreciate why the e-cigarette company is frustrated.

It has grown like gangbusters since the first Juul vaporizer was introduced in 2015, leaving competitors — including traditional tobacco companies with their own e-cigarettes — gagging on its smoke. Yet now, a meaningful percentage of that business is being threatened by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who is so concerned about Juul’s soaring popularity with high school and middle school students that last week, he said he’s looking to have flavored e-cigs made available only in “age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification.”

Even limited to selling more of its menthol-, tobacco- and mint-flavored nicotine cartridges, one imagines that Juul — which also sells mango, crème, cucumber and fruit-flavored liquids — will be just fine as a business concern.

As co-founder and CTO Adam Bowen recently told this editor of the opportunity facing his company: “We’re 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, which sounds like a lot, but we’re only 4 to 5 percent of the U.S. cigarette market . . .So we’re really just getting started here, and we’ve just scratched the surface outside of the U.S., where 95 percent of smokers live.”

Still, Juul clearly doesn’t want to take any chances. Just two months after filing a lawsuit aimed at stopping 30 entities in China from selling counterfeit Juul products on eBay, and a filing a separate complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC), claiming that 18 organizations are infringing on Juul’s many patents, Juul has filed a new patent-infringement complaint with the ITC and again, it’s looking to block sales of competing e-cigarette devices and nicotine cartridges made mostly in China.

As Bloomberg notes in an earlier report, the company also filed mirror lawsuits in eight district courts around the U.S., accusing companies of infringing on its patents.

What happens next remains to be seen, pending any investigation the ITC may conduct. The biggest questions for the agency will seemingly be whether these competing and often flavored products may more easily fall into the hands of underage smokers, or if Juul is largely trying to box out a growing field of competitors and knock-offs while dealing with the FDA, which it has been trying with only partial success to appease.

Likely, it will find both to be true.

In the meantime, Juul’s customers are also preparing themselves for the changes ahead. As one longtime smoker turned Juul enthusiast told The New York Times this week, she has been stocking up on Juul’s mango cartridges at her corner smoke shop, while also accepting that she may have to adjust to a more traditional flavor profile.

“I’ll switch to Juul’s tobacco flavor,” she told the outlet. “I can get around this. Just like the kids will — they can always find a way.”

You can check out the list of companies that Juul is newly going after here.