JUUL vaping e-cigarette
© JUUL/screenshot
Starting September 1, the Israeli government will prohibit the sale of a small piece of plastic that looks like a disk-on-key device but is filled with highly concentrated nicotine. This device has been causing millions of young Americans to become addicted.

The import and sales of JUUL vaping e-cigarette will not be allowed, Prime Minister (and health minister) Benjamin Netanyahu decided this week following urgent requests from Health Ministry officials, who said the product poses "a grave danger to public health."

The small container's contents, which is inhaled, is so inconspicuous that some students even use them during class and charge them by plugging the devices into their laptop computers.

In each JUUL pod, there are 59 milligrams of nicotine for every milliliter of liquid, an amount much more potent than the six to 30 milligrams in other e-cigs. Although the US Food and Drug Administration has not barred its sale and import, the European Union has prohibited it because its limit of nicotine is 20 milligrams per milliliter.

Pronounced "jewel," the product comes from San Francisco's JUUL Labs, an electronic cigarette company that spun off from PAX Labs in 2017, where it was first introduced in 2015. Produced in attractive colors and fruit such as mango and other flavors including crème brulee and mint, the piece of plastic is thin and can easily been hidden from adults. One pod, equal in nicotine to a pack of cigarettes, can be finished in a day by a heavy JUUL smoker.

Made from nicotine salts that exist in leaf-based tobacco, it has been marketed intensively in the US and elsewhere via the social media, especially Instagram.

JUUL is "addictive and dangerous to individual and public health in Israel," warned Dr. Hagai Levine, of the Association of Public Health Physicians and the Medical Society for the Prevention and Smoking earlier this year. "Experience in the US teaches us that the product is aimed especially at youngsters, who are especially susceptible to nicotine addiction. There is a real danger that the massive penetration of this product without any regulatory limitations will lead to increased use also of conventional cigarettes among youths and cause addiction, illness and deaths," he said.

As it is a new product, there hasn't been time for reliable research to be conducted on JUUL's long-term effects, but in the field, the high-powered nicotine has clearly become addictive among teens and young adults.

At present, they can be purchased by individuals of any age, even children, in almost three dozen stores in five cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, and not only at tobacconists but also at special "vape shops" that are opening and becoming popular. They can also be smoked anywhere and advertised without limits.

The manufacturers have claimed that their product is "a safer alternative to cigarettes," but this has not been proven. JUUL Israel, which has opened its own store in this country, was outraged after hearing about the ban. The local company's CEO, Assaf Snir, said that JUUL is meant for adult smokers. The company, he said, will go to the High Court of Justice to appeal the government's upcoming prohibition of imports and sales.

Snir contended that JUUL was "safer" than conventional cigarettes because it contains no tobacco and the hundreds of toxic chemicals, including tar, hydrogen cyanic, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, uranium and benzene in tobacco products.

The Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, the Israel Medical Association's Society for the Prevention of Smoking and for Smoking Cessation and the Israel Cancer Association welcomed the JUUL ban, but said government action against smoking is only partial.

"The Israeli market remains vulnerable to the introduction of new tobacco and nicotine products, and there is no protection of the public from new products and electronic cigarettes," they said in a joint statement. "The Government of Israel, and in particular the health and finance ministers, must act with determination to fully implement the World Health Organization's Framework Tobacco Control Convention that it ratified and to act in a comprehensive manner to protect public health."

The organizations also demanded that the government equalize the taxes on all tobacco products, including cheap rolling tobacco that many Israelis are now using instead of conventional cigarettes, and to pass the law banning the advertisement of tobacco products and applying it to all tobacco and nicotine products.

Meanwhile, studies about the dangerous long-term effects of exposure to tobacco among non-smokers continue to mount up. Prospective research and a 20-year followup by the American Cancer Society on 184,000 adult Americans who never smoked, has found that secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke by children, as well as non-smoking adults, significantly increase the risk of death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease in adults.