When Juul's co-creator stood in front of a technology audience in April 2016, electronic cigarette ads aimed to distance the product from a toxic past: "Our company has its roots in Silicon Valley, not in the fields of tobacco".
But when James Monsees, a future billionaire, projected a 30-year-old tobacco document on the screen behind him, he smiled. It was an intern memo from the research of R.J. Reynolds, the cigarette maker Camel. It was marked as "SECRET".
"We also had another advantage," said Monsees.
A Los Angeles Times review of more than 3,000 pages of Juul's internal records, obtained by the Food and Drug Administration and released to a researcher through the Freedom of Information Act, found that the concept behind the formula that makes Juul so palatable and addictive goes back more than four decades – to Reynolds' labs.
The main ingredient: nicotine salts.
Juul salts contain up to three times the amount of nicotine found in previous electronic cigarettes. They use softening chemicals to allow people to take deeper puffs without vomiting or burning their throat. And they were developed based on research conducted by the tobacco companies that Juul claimed to be leaving behind.
In addition to internal documents, The Times consulted more than a dozen tobacco researchers, policy experts, and historians, and reviewed the publicly available patent applications and videos of Juul's founders discussing their products over a decade. One of these videos has been removed from YouTube.
Taken together, the evidence shows a Silicon Valley startup that intended to "deconstruct" Big Tobacco even as it emulated it, harnessing industry expertise to launch a 21st century. nicotine arms race.
In this screenshot of an April 2016 video that was recently removed from YouTube, one of Juul's founders, James Monsees, features an R.J. Reynolds's research memo stamped "SECRET."
In several conversations with The Times, Juul did not directly address the claims that the company adopted the same industry it was trying to dismantle. A Juul spokesman acknowledged that the product intentionally "mimicked" the nicotine experience of a traditional cigarette, but explained that the formula was designed in this way to satisfy the desires of adult smokers, not children.
“We never designed our product to attract young people and we don't want any non-nicotine users to try our products, ”a Juul spokesman said in a statement to The Times. "We are working urgently to address the use of steam products by minors, including Juul products, and to gain the trust of regulators, policy makers and other stakeholders."
After extensive lobbying by the vaping industry and its allies, President Trump missed this deadline to ban vaping flavors, despite increasing public complaints about its attractiveness to teens, and it is now unclear whether the government will take action. On Monday at California Atty. General Xavier Becerra and the Los Angeles authorities have filed a lawsuit against Juul, alleging that she engages in fraudulent practices with child advertising and fails to issue health warnings.
But a new generation of nicotine addicts has already been established, and health experts warn that millions of teens who currently practice vape may finally turn to other products. like cigarettes for your correction.
"Reynolds successfully designed this formula, but it was Juul who finally vaporized it – and achieved what Big Tobacco never achieved," said Robert Jackler, a Stanford University researcher focused on the use of electronic cigarettes in teens. "They studied Reynolds literature, took advantage of it and addicted a new generation of young Americans."
Make nicotine more palatable
In February 1973, a Reynolds researcher saw a dilemma: Although cigarettes had great appeal to adults, they would never become "the products" among young people.
For a teenager, the physical effects of smoking were "really quite unpleasant," wrote Claude E. Teague Jr., who is now deceased, in a confidential internal statement. memo.
"Realistically, if our company survives and thrives in the long run, we should get our youth market share," he wrote. "There is certainly nothing immoral or unethical about our company trying to attract these smokers."
Reynolds had known for two decades that your product caused cancer. Still, one of the company's leading researchers, Frank G. Colby, inclined a design in late 1973 that would secure "a larger segment of the youth market," packing "more" pleasure "or" kicks "(nicotine)" and softening the harsh effect of the chemical on young smokers' throats.
By increasing nicotine, the addictive chemical, the company could generate faster and more intense addictions among younger customers, ensuring decades of business. But a key challenge was to make nicotine palatable: the chemical was used as an insecticide since colonial times and three drops on the tongue could be lethal, according to Robert Proctor, a Stanford cigarette historian. People could not inhale heavy doses without vomiting.
Reynolds scientists finally found a solution: combine high pH nicotine with a low pH acid. The result was a neutralized compound called salt – nicotine salt.
To perfect the technique, the company hired one of its chemists, Thomas Perfetti, 25, a recent graduate.
Perfetti started work in a six month investigation into nicotine salts. According to the lab notes, he shook round-bottom flasks of various acids and then added nicotine, watching the ingredients condense into thick yellow oils. All were odorless except one, he wrote, which smelled of "green apples."
Perfetti synthesized 30 different nicotine salt blends and then warmed them up – as a smoker would do – in search of the “maximum nicotine release”. He also tested the ability of salts to dissolve in a liquid – a feature that decades later would become central to vaping products like Juul.
On January 18, 1979, Perfetti scribbled his signature in a 17-page finale. report. Results were marked as "CONFIDENTIAL". He was soon promoted.
R.J. The investigation of Reynolds "CONFIDENTIAL" nicotine salts was found among the documents the FDA obtained from Juul in 2018.
(UCSF Truth Tobacco Industry Document Database.)
Ten years later, Reynolds received a patent for its salts under the name of Perfetti listed among three inventors. Perfetti would continue to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tobacco Science Research Conference.
Perfetti, who has since retired from the company, confirmed the details of his research for The Times in a LinkedIn message, but declined to comment further.
Reynolds spokesman Kaelan Hollon told The Times that research on nicotine salts was conducted while the company aimed to "reduce the risks" of smoking while "maintaining nicotine delivery." Although the salts were patented, they were never used in a traditional Reynolds cigarette, he added.
Premier. The unburnt heat cigarette was introduced by R.J. Reynolds.
At the same time, in 1988, Reynolds launched one of the first aerosol cigarettes: Premier. After five months, it was withdrawn from the market because of low sales, records show.
"It made me sick for the rest of the day," a tobacco distributor told the times in 1989, saying he was returning thousands of dollars in aerosol cigarettes to Reynolds.
At the time, the company was facing another obstacle to using its new research: FDA's growing outrage over what health experts called "misleading" past. In 1998, Reynolds, along with three other companies, agreed to start paying billions of dollars to compensate states for consciously driving a smoking epidemic that had so far killed about 20 million Americans. According to Proctor, Camyn de Reynolds cigarettes killed about 4 million.
In this climate, the company failed to combine its two technical triumphs – palatable salts and early steam equipment.
"Reynolds was able to develop the technology, but never made it into a transformative innovation," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, DC.
"Juul did it."
"Addiction is central to the business model"
In this video, available on YouTube, James Monsees and Adam Bowen, then product design students at Stanford University, present their postgraduate thesis in 2005. The vaporizer, called Ploom, would later evolve to Pax and, in 2015, Juul .
In June 2005, two product design students at Stanford appeared in front of a classroom to present their postgraduate thesis entitled "The Rational Future of Smoking." It was, in a way, the birth of an industry.
As the lights dimmed, the students, Adam Bowen and Monsees, projected a screen image of a man puffing out an initial prototype of a vape pen – a precursor to Juul.
A video of the event shows the two students pitching their audience for 17 minutes on a device called Ploom, a vaporizer that would provide "a much more effective way to release nicotine." They illustrated the stigma of traditional cigarettes – using a South Park cartoon clip that called a smoker "Dirty Lung" and "Tar Breath." They compared their nicotine capsules to stylish Nespresso cartridges that were "a big hit in Europe."
"We can take back tobacco as a luxury good – not as much as a drug delivery device," said Bowen, who became co-founder and chief technology officer of Juul.
Monsees said the pair examined the research behind Reynolds' failed Premier model before creating their own. He designed a snapshot of …