E-cig company Juul is considering creating a digital health tool for smokers who want to quit

  • Juul is the most popular e-cigarette in America and the company is partially owned by Altria, the tobacco giant behind Marlboro cigarettes.
  • Juul is on a quest to show that its sleek devices can help adult smokers take up a healthier habit, despite pushback from regulators who are concerned about youth vaping.
  • The company has gotten a makeover in recent years and started doing health research.
  • Now, Juul is beefing up a team focused on behavioural research that could include work on an app or other smartphone-based tool for smokers who want to cut back.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

The e-cigarette company Juul is considering dipping its toes into digital health.

The company, whose sleek devices are the most popular e-cigarette in America, is beefing up a team focused on behavioural research, a Juul representative confirmed to Business Insider. Juul is hiring for two new positions that could consider, among other things, creating an app or other smartphone-based tool that would help smokers who want to use its products to stay away from cigarettes, job postings show.

Part of one new role, according to a job description posted on Juul’s website last week, includes “developing the foundations for programs that more fully meet smokers’ personal goals … including mobile health-based intervention.”

Partially owned by Altria, the tobacco giant behind Marlboro cigarettes, Juul has undergone a makeover in recent years as it works to position itself as a serious alternative to smoking.

The company has faced scrutiny for its popularity among young people. At the center of the debate is a six-month launch campaign that the company kicked off with a promotional party. The campaign featured images of young models on bright, colourful backgrounds and included ads on social media.

Beginning this year, Juul started publishing health research as it works to move from buzzy startup to established company.

A big aim of that research is to show that its flash-drive-like e-cigarettes might help smokers take up a healthier habit than using combustible cigarettes. Last month, the company financed a study which provided the first clear evidence that some people are using Juul e-cigarettes to cut back on smoking.

The work from Juul’s behavioural research team – along with any smartphone-based tool that it may create – would complement those efforts.

Erik Augustson, a former program director at the National Cancer Institute, is heading up the work of that team, the Juul spokesperson said. At NCI, Augustson worked on initiatives to get people to stop smoking, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Augustson’s team will also conduct more research into patterns of use among adults and youth and explore the kinds of factors that might play a role in whether someone uses the Juul to switch away from traditional cigarettes.

Currently, the team is heavily focused on submitting an application to have its products approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Juul spokesperson said.

‘More than just products’

In addition to its e-cigarettes, Juul could eventually offer smokers an app or similar tool that they could use for support while they try to curb their use of traditional cigarettes. That might include connecting them with a network of like-minded peers with whom they could regularly check in, or something as simple as a resource that includes motivational chat rooms and videos.

Christopher Russell, the lead author of the study Juul financed and published last month and a psychologist at the Scotland-based research consulting firm CSUR, previously told Business Insider that he believes more e-cigarette companies should be working on behavioural tools like this.

“I think increasingly, e-cigarette manufacturers who are genuinely interested in being a smoking alternative, I think they need to start selling more than just products,” Russell said.

“They need to start selling a service as well, where they give wrap-around behavioural support that includes things like videos and chat rooms. Something where there’s a human-to-human interaction. So you get the satisfying product and a network of peers,” he said.

As part of Juul’s behavioural research program, its researchers are studying more than 70,000 participants, according to the Juul spokesperson. They are looking to learn whether and how these people change their smoking habits as they use the Juul over the course of up to a year.

“We remain focused on how we can best support adult smokers in their switching journey and that will continue to guide us as we submit our regulatory filings,” the Juul representative said.

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