Juul, the electronic cigarette that has conquered America but is banned in Europe, has arrived in Israel without any opposition from the Health Ministry.
The e-cigarette is available at 30 locations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Ashkelon and Modi’in, at tobacco shops as well as the vape shops that have sprung up at a dizzying pace in recent months.
A starter package of the Juul device and UBS charger retails for about 115 shekels ($32); a set of four pods costs about 70 shekels.
It’s too early to predict the impact of the Juul on Israeli smokers, who comprise between 19% and 23% of the adult population. But if America is any indication, Juul will be a big hit: In the few months since it was launched by Juul Labs, spun out of the vaping company Pax Labs, its product has quickly become the top e-cigarette in the $2 billion-a-year U.S. market. Matched against 500 different e-cigarette brands, it has a market share of over half.
The secret of its success is its apparent but never stated appeal to young people. Juul has a high-tech feel, comes in attractive colors and trendy flavors like mango and crème brulee, and is designed to be concealed from parents and teachers.
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To be fair, e-cigarettes are lauded by some as a safer alternative to ordinary smokes because they don’t contain tobacco or produce smoke. In any case, they have been around for less than a decade, so the long-term impact of their use isn’t yet known.
However, Juul contains an awful lot of nicotine, which if it isn’t carcinogenic is certainly addicting. Studies show that young people who try e-cigarettes are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes than young people who don’t.
Juul has 59 milligrams of nicotine for every milliliter of liquid, way above the range of six to 30 for other e-cigarettes.
That is why it is banned in Europe, where the maximum permitted level is 20 milligrams. A single pod, which a heavy smoker could use in a single day, has the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
In March, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said his agency is considering regulating Juul and other e-cigarettes as an over-the-counter drug. In Israel, however, the Health Ministry has no regulations at all for them, despite a promise made a year ago by Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman that he would apply the same rules to them as to regular cigarettes.
Today, it is permissible to sell e-cigarettes to children, advertise them freely and smoke them anywhere. Juul has taken upon itself to bar sales to those under age 18. The only government-imposed restrictions they have face are from the Education Ministry, which in April issued a circular banning them from schools.
As it has before, the Health Ministry’s official reaction to this state of affairs is to reiterate it plans for chaing the law.
“In the framework of proposed legislation that the ministry is advancing together with Knesset member Eitan Cabel, the ministry is ensuring that the law will be amended to deem electronic cigarettes as equivalent to any other smoking product, thus applying all existing and new restrictions on them,” the ministry told TheMarker.
Last week, the State Comptroller’s Office released a report that was highly critical the Health Ministry’s incompetence in its handling the issue of smoking. A year after the ministry vowed to address the issue of e-cigarettes, they are now on the market with no rules or regulations to govern their sale or use.