Backfired: The Vaping Wars

For decades, people have been trying to figure out how to create a cigarette without many of the downsides. Cigarettes sans the things that make smoking the biggest cause of preventable death in America like tar, carcinogens, etc.

Photo by Raul Lieberwirth. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cigarette companies tried to create “safe,” combustion-free smoking devices as far back as the 1980s. They were huge flops. Then, in the 2000s, e-cigarettes first hit the market. These early models looked almost like cigarettes, but gave themselves away in subtle ways – if you looked closely, you could see they were made of plastic or metal, and they had a little glowing light on the tip meant to resemble the “cherry” on the end of a lit cigarette. None of these ended up breaking into the mainstream.

Photo by Vaping360 (CC BY 4.0 Deed | Attribution 4.0 International)

That is, until, in 2015, a company called Juul Labs rolled out a new nicotine vape that caught fire. Two Stanford graduate students set out to create a new kind of cigarette that wouldn’t kill them, they didn’t foresee all the obstacles that lay ahead—or the powerful forces their invention would unleash. Juul e-cigarettes became popular both among adult smokers who used them to kick their habits, and with young people – kids! – who just thought they were cool. When The Juul became a phenomenon; not, strictly speaking, as a smoking cessation device, but as an entirely new habit – Juuling. In addition to limiting some of the harm of smoking, it seemed to threaten an entire generation with nicotine addiction.

The new podcast Backfired: The Vaping Wars dives into the stories behind the Juul’s success, and its failures. Listening to the show, it’s clear that what began as an arguably promising innovation in harm reduction inspired a backlash that, in turn, opened the door to a veritable wild west of vaping products.

Backfired: The Vaping Wars

Backfired is the latest podcast from Prologue Projects, the award-winning team behind Slow Burn, Fiasco, and Think Twice: Michael Jackson. Backfired is a show about the business of unintended consequences—what happens when solving one problem inadvertently leads to a host of new ones?

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