How an e-cigarette crackdown could affect your wallet

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How an e-cigarette crackdown could affect your wallet

You’ve seen them on the street, inside your local deli or even in the classroom. Shaped like a USB drive, the small electronic cigarette Juul has taken the market by storm.

As cigarettes have become more expensive and health officials push to end smoking, many people have turned to vaping.

With e-cigarette’s rise in the past few years, there's been a rapid increase in youth vaping: The Food and Drug Administration reported a 78% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students between 2017 and 2018.

“They’ve been advertised as this safe alternative, but some of the chemicals in e-cigarettes are very harmful,” said Ilias Kavouras, professor of public health at The City University of New York. “It may have helped some smokers stop smoking cigarettes, but it also introduced many to smoking, especially young people.”

This could soon change. Juul, which makes up more than 70% of the e-cigarette market, announced Tuesday it would stop selling most of its flavored pods at more than 90,000 convenience stores and specialty vape shops.

This came days before the FDA’s recent decision to move all flavored e-cigarette products to age-restricted locations in stores. The FDA's move is intended to address underage smoking, which it credits to marketing strategies by e-cigarette companies. But here's how it could affect vapers.

Will there be a price increase for e-cigarettes?

If you’re over 18 and vape, don’t expect the price of your device to spike anytime soon — but getting a hold of your favorite flavor could be more difficult.

Juul, for example, is removing its mango, cucumber, creme and fruit-flavored pods from stores, but users can still buy tobacco, mint and menthol-flavored pods in stores. Consumers looking for flavored pods will have to order them online and be subject to a strict age verification, according to Juul.

Alex Clark, CEO of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association, said Juul’s move to pull some of their products out of stores could hinder smokers looking to quit.

“We believe people who smoke should see e-cigarette products in the same places they go to buy cigarettes,” he said. “Imagine a smoker walks into a gas station. If he sees healthier options right in front of him, and can price compare, he may be more likely to buy an e-cigarette.”

Marnie Landau, a sales associate at a textile company, started smoking Juul in an effort to quit smoking cigarettes. Her favorite flavor is cucumber, which means she now has to shop online to get her nicotine fix.

“It’s a hassle. It’s annoying,” she said. “I don’t always know when I’m going to run out. And if I do, and I don’t have any pods, I’ll have to go for days before I get new ones.”

Saving money in the long run

For Juul users, Clark recommends switching to an “open system” vape to save money: A device that takes refillable juice instead of pods. Though an open-system device is typically more expensive upfront, he said the cost of buying pods over and over can add up.

Also, with open-system devices, you will have access to the flavors you want in stores.

Landau said she plans to quit vaping in the next couple of months to save money, or switch to an open-system vape.

“Pods are expensive. You can’t refill them,” she said. “Other brands, you buy one flavor and it lasts way longer and you can refill it.”

Another overlooked cost of vaping? Insurance rates. Most life insurance companies classify e-cigarette users as smokers when determining their rates, which means they'll pay more. Here's a primer on vaping and insurance.

Image: licsiren