Skip to main content

Juul Hires a Prominent Researcher of Nicotine's Effects on Youth

Mark Rubinstein comes from a university known for its tobacco-control research and archive of tobacco industry documents.
Electronic cigarettes and pods by Juul, the nation's largest maker of vaping products, are offered for sale at the Smoke Depot on September 13th, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois.

Juuls come in a number of flavors that appeal to teenagers.

When searching for a new medical director, Juul didn't have to look far. The vape manufacturer has hired Mark Rubinstein, a pediatrician and scientist with the University of California­–San Francisco's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Kaiser Health News reports. Juul, too, is Bay Area-based, and its e-cigarettes are known for their sleek, techy design that critics say made them appeal to teen users, whose brains are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction:

By the time Juuls went on sale in June of 2015, e-cigarettes had already become more popular with middle and high schoolers than any other nicotine product, as I've reported before. In lawsuits, however, states contend that Juul only made things worse, with a marketing campaign that helped the brand take off among teens on Instagram. Juul's leadership told the New York Times in 2018 that it never meant to sell to youth.

Between 2011 and 2018, the proportion of high school students reporting they used e-cigarettes shot up nearly 14-fold, from 1.5 percent to 21 percent, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having all those kids exposed to nicotine early in their lives is worrisome, as I wrote in 2015:

Studies show that young people can get addicted to nicotine within just a few days. Evidence from studies of rats injected with nicotine suggests the chemical affects young brains more profoundly than it does older ones. Young tobacco users are also likely to think they can "smoke for a few years and then quit," but that's simply not true. Once people start using tobacco in their teen years, they are very likely to continue to do so when they're older. More than 80 percent of adult smokers started before the age of 19, according to the 2012 Surgeon General's Report. Out of every four teens who smokes now, only one will quit successfully later. One will die of tobacco-related causes.

Juul's choice to hire a prominent researcher of the effects of nicotine on adolescents worried many scientists that Kaiser Health News talked with, although one of Rubinstein's colleagues said he hoped Rubinstein would help the company find ways to reduce teen vaping. Juul's poaching from the University of California–San Francisco makes for especially interesting optics: The university is known for its large archive of historic documents from the tobacco industry, many of which outline the industry's technique of using scientists to sow uncertainty about the health dangers of cigarettes.