You’ll have to forgive us for harping on about the Juul so much lately, but this is genuinely interesting news: Juul apparently intends on releasing a ‘smart’ version of its industry-shaking e-cigarette in 2019.

Speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF 2018 event, Juul co-founder James Monsees talked at length about the problems that Juul has been facing with the way their products are used—both by youth and adults—and how they’re looking to solve these problems with a Juul that uses machine learning to help you control your usage.

This is head-turning news for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that we’ve just gotten the Juul here in the UK and boy are we excited about it. We tried to refrain as much as possible from covering the Juul while it wasn’t particularly relevant news in this country; now, however, it’s available in Vape shops across the country and starting to appear in the crisply-pressed breast pockets of sharp-looking young professionals (among others) out on the street. Which means that Juul is officially news.

In case you’ve been under a rock

Juul is a small, pod-based e-cigarette that was released in 2015, but which rose to enormous popularity over the course of 2017. It’s upended the e-cigarette industry with its combination of sleek, high-quality design and construction, and its nicotine salt e-liquid formulation. This winning combination has helped the three-year-old start up beat out mainstream competitors like British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, and Phillip Morris—put together. Riding on the back of Juul, the e-cigarette market expanded by 40% in 2017, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

In the United States, Juul makes up some 70% of e-cigarette sales. And now that Juul is available in the UK, expect to see a lot more on the streets.

The trouble is…

Juul isn’t without its troubles, however. Americans have been wringing their hands for months over the popularity of Juul among youth, particularly teenagers, many of whom don’t realise that Juul e-liquid has nicotine in it. It’s prompted the American Food and Drug Administration to start considering banning flavours from e-liquids sold there (and you thought the TPD was bad). Juul has been throwing money at the problem for the better part of a year now, and the trend seems to be dying down, slowly.

Of course, no such trend occurred here in the UK (where the Juul hasn’t been on sale), but there’s some concern circulating that we’re ripe for it.

Still, we might be saved from the worst of it. While UK Juuls continue to use the nicotine salt blend that made them so popular, the nicotine concentration is significantly decreased to comply with the TPD, as we noted a few weeks ago.

Trend-setter of the vaping world

Still, no one can deny that Juul has been a global trend-setter. The rise of interest in nicotine salt and pod-based vaping systems has matched almost exactly the rise of interest in the Juul. Check out this gif from Google trends:

And how about this for a tasty bit of anecdata: at this time last year, we sold precisely 0 pod-based vapes. Now we sell 4 distinct models and they’re flying off the shelf faster than we can stock them.

Oh, and they all use nicotine-salt pods.

The future of Juul

All of this is what makes the announcement that Juul has made at that TechCrunch event such a bellwether for what’s to come in the vaping world. Of course we’re on the road towards smart vapes. Of course they use machine learning. And of course you can control your usage through an app.

The Juul of the future will be Bluetooth-accessible, which means that if your Juul can’t find your phone, it simply won’t turn on at all—obviating the dangers of, say, a child finding a lost e-cigarette and using it themselves. The Juul of the future will also be able to vary the nicotine dose automatically, helping you to reduce your usage smoothly, and without having to think about it. The Juul of the future will be able to track how many pods you’re using per day and give you advice and help with future use.

Monsees, the Juul co-founder from the beginning of the article, rightly points out that getting people to quit cigarettes is just the first step along the road to health. E-cigarettes are massively more healthy than tobacco, but they do come with their risks. These new controls, coming sometime in 2019, seem to be made to help people wean themselves off nicotine entirely. A Juul that helps you stop using Juul.

The future of vaping

If the past is any indication (and it is; this conditional is just a rhetorical device), where Juul goes, the rest of the industry is bound to follow. We’ve been on third- (or fourth-?) generation vapes for long enough; bring on the future.

Chris Polenski
Chris Polenski