New survey results undermine a Democratic talking point that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking cigarettes, as users of the popular vaping product JUUL report high rates of quitting.
A new survey of nearly 19,000 JUUL users in the United States found that less than 1 percent of its customers were not smokers before they began vaping. By contrast, over 64 percent of adults who were smokers before they began using JUUL have used the product to stop smoking cigarettes.
"Our mission is to eliminate cigarette smoking in the world by providing adult smokers with a true alternative to cigarettes," JUUL said. "We are encouraged by these survey results, and we look forward to continuing to engage with the FDA regarding the relevance of switching data to the public health impact of JUUL."
The Food and Drug Administration delayed regulations affecting electronic cigarettes and vaping devices until 2022, allowing companies already on the market as of August 2016 to continue to operate.
"Tobacco smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Vapor technology offers the potential to improve the lives of adult smokers," JUUL said. "We remain steadfast in our commitment to fund clinical and behavioral research to add to the growing body of scientific evidence regarding vapor technology."
The survey is the largest to date of JUUL users, who make up the largest share of vapers in this country. The company is the fastest growing and highest selling e-cigarette maker, accounting for $5.5 billion of the U.S. market in 2018.
Of those who reported they were smokers when they first used JUUL, 64.3 percent said they now no longer smoke, according to the survey commissioned by JUUL and conducted by the Center for Substance Use Research in the United Kingdom.
"Of the 18,799 survey respondents, 55 (0.3 percent) reported they were never smokers when they first used a JUUL and are now current smokers," according to the survey.
Even if smokers did not completely quit, using JUUL made it likely they now smoke less.
The survey included 3,894 smokers who were smoking at least 6 cigarettes per day now smoke between 50 and 99 percent fewer cigarettes.
"In this sample, there were approximately 137 participants who transitioned from a Current Smoker to a Former Smoker after initiating JUUL use for every one participant who transitioned from a Never Smoker to a Current Smoker after initiating JUUL use," according to the survey. "The rate of transition from Current Smoker to Former Smoker was approximately 28 times higher than the rate of transition from Never Smoker to Current Smoker."
The results challenge a Democratic narrative that e-cigarettes are a "gateway" to smoking.
Democrats have had their sights on e-cigarettes for years, insisting the products, which are commonly used for smoking cessation, lead children to get hooked on cigarettes. The FDA has already banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) is a leading opponent of e-cigarettes and has claimed that providing a flavor to imitate the classic French dessert Crème Brulee is an attempt to "clearly appeal to children and young people."
Earlier this year, Durbin demanded information from JUUL, accusing the company of "undermining our nation’s efforts to reduce tobacco use among youth and putting an entire new generation of children at risk of nicotine addiction and other health consequences."
"Your company's product purports to help people quit smoking cigarettes, yet we are concerned that JUUL—with its kid-appealing design and flavorings—will only lead to further nicotine addiction and adverse health consequences," Durbin said.
However, trade advocates argue the variety of flavors is what helps people quit smoking.
Request for comment on the survey from Durbin's office was not returned.
JUUL, for its part, says its products are not appropriate or intended for youth and says its marketing does "not feature images or situations intended for a youth audience."
The survey found that the variety of JUUL flavors and smelling better than cigarettes were factors for some people who successfully quit smoking using the device.