An e-cigarette maker’s reckoning with teen vaping | WORLD
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Big Vape

DOCUMENTARY | Did Juul help save lives or destroy them?


<em>Big Vape</em>
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Rated TV-MA

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, where does the road with questionable motives lead? Right through e-cigarette manufacturer Juul’s San Francisco headquarters. The Netflix documentary Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul charts the company’s path from its conception as the thesis project of Stanford students Adam Bowen and James Monsees to eliminate demand for cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes. The company grew to a $38 billion valuation in 2019 but nearly collapsed under state and federal regulations.

Director R.J. Cutler presents opposing perspectives evenhandedly: Bowen and Monsees were “naïve idealists” on a “mission” to “save a billion lives.” Or they were (or became) shameless entrepreneurs who delivered “an addictive drug that appealed to kids.”

The four-part series interviews current and former Juul employees, journalists, physicians, FDA officials, teen and adult vapers, and anti-vaping activist parents. Experts acknowledge “anecdotal evidence” that Juul helped some adults kick their cigarette habit but maintain “there’s proven ­evidence that kids are harmed.” Blame falls on marketing strategies and fruit-flavored vapes that, in one critic’s words, “recruit[ed] the next generation of nicotine addicts.”

Mission credibility suffered a double blow after Marlboro parent company Altria purchased 35 percent of Juul, and the dangers to minors of vaping came to light. Still, some employees seemed oblivious. “We were anti–Big Tobacco,” one claims. “Yes, we sell nicotine products, but we’re not like them.”

Perhaps as disturbing as Juul’s escalating duplicity is the sadly familiar story of an unanchored generation of young people giving themselves to a harmful pursuit.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



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