The Pax 2 vaporizer, so sleek and ubiquitous that it’s been called the “iPhone of vaporizers,” made it classy to get high in public.
The device has a brushed aluminium body featuring clean lines and activation sensors in the mouthpiece. It monitors the oven temperature every 30 seconds, allowing for a smooth hit of loose-leaf tobacco or marijuana every time.
Now the creator of the device, Pax Labs, hopes to reinvent the smoking experience for cigarette fans. The startup wants to dominate over cheap, disposable e-cigarettes with an attractive and easy-to-use device called the Juul, which Pax Labs says has the highest repeat buy rate in the e-cigarette market.
On August 22, the company announced the appointment of a new CEO, Tyler Goldman — the former CEO of North America at Deezer, a global digital music streaming service. He told Business Insider that Juul could easily outpace the Pax 2’s 1 million units sold and generate a bulk of the company’s revenue next year.
“Topics like marijuana have gotten a lot of coverage, and it’s sexy,” Goldman said. “But the evolution of the e-cigarette is going to have a more profound effect.”
Despite the tobacco market’s huge size, innovation has lagged in the industry. Most e-cigarettes come in two varieties: There’s the penlike device designed to look like a cigarette, or the clunky tin boxes that make you feel like you’re pulling from a Walkman. Neither provides an experience comparable to smoking a cigarette, according to Goldman.
The Juul is a long, thin, rectangular device with a glittering metallic finish. A hexagon-shaped opening at the top reveals the pack of liquid nicotine inside, which Pax sells in four flavours. Users place their lips on the mouthpiece and inhale to activate the heat source, whereas other devices require users to unscrew the cap and fill a chamber with liquid.
The cartridges, called “Juulpods,” set the device apart. While most e-cigarettes use a form of nicotine called “free-base,” Juulpods contains a concentrated juice cocktail of salts and organic acids found in tobacco leaves. This combination more closely resembles the ingredients in a cigarette, and therefore tastes more like one, according to Goldman.
Is it safer? We don’t really know.
Most research suggests e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes because they don’t require lighting a material on fire and inhaling the carcinogens and toxins that go along with it. But nicotine is still dangerous, and the long-term effects of e-cigarette use are unknown.
An engineer on the R&D team at Pax Labs told The Verge in 2015, “anything about health is not on our mind.” When I asked a company spokesperson to clarify its vision moving forward, she said that Pax Labs is on a mission to “reinvent the smoking experience,” not make it safer.
In a call to Business Insider on Monday, after this article published, Goldman explained that the company cannot make any safety claims because of regulations laid out by the Food and Drug Administration.
“What drew me here was this enormous opportunity to build better and safer products for this incredibly large market — and ultimately, to eradicate smoking [as opposed to vaping],” said Goldman, who described safety as a “critical part of the mission.”
The Juul is selling out at convenience stores even as the e-cigarette category has stalled overall. Pax Labs has experienced 94% sales growth since the start of 2016, according to the company.
The Juul pen and starter pod costs $US49.99, and a four-pack of cartridges runs $US15.99. Each Juulpod is roughly the equivalent of a pack of smokes, or 200 puffs.
The same technology used in the Juul might someday be applied to a marijuana oil vape pen, like the popular Highlighter vaporizer by Bloom Farms. But Goldman said Pax Labs won’t produce new products until the company has perfected its existing ones.
Goldman said tobacco companies have cleared the way for Pax to innovate.
“I did not expect that the major tobacco companies would not have been more innovative,” Goldman said. “I don’t think it’s because they have a secret desire to keep people smoking cigarettes. I think it has to do with the fact that they really didn’t have the technical know-how to build a better experience.”