Michael Calore: I used to vape all the time.
Lauren Goode: You did?
Michael Calore: Back when it was all the rage, about, I don’t know, five, six years ago. Yeah.
Lauren Goode: Oh, so I just missed your vaping stage because I joined WIRED about four years ago.
Michael Calore: Yeah, I think so.
Lauren Goode: What would you do if the world ran out of vape juice?
Michael Calore: I would probably just smoke a cigarette.
Lauren Goode: Oh, really? All right. We have to talk about this.
[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]
Lauren Goode: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I’m Lauren Goode. I’m a senior writer at WIRED.
Michael Calore: And I’m Michael Calore. I’m a senior editor at WIRED.
Lauren Goode: Welcome back, Mike.
Michael Calore: Thank you.
Lauren Goode: We really missed you.
Michael Calore: I missed you too.
Lauren Goode: And by “we” I’m speaking for our audience too, because I’m assuming they missed you.
Michael Calore: I missed you and our audience as well.
Lauren Goode: Well, this week we’re also joined by someone else who I’m sure misses you: WIRED senior writer Arielle Pardes, our former Gadget Lab cohost and still a friend of the pod. Hey Arielle.
Arielle Pardes: Hi. It’s so good to be with you guys again.
Lauren Goode: It’s great to have you back. OK. So today we are talking about vaping. It’s origins, why it caught on so fast, and what the future of vaping might be now that regulators are cracking down on it. So for those not totally hooked, vapes are those electric nicotine sticks that your high schooler might hide up their sleeve.
This market for e-cigarettes has taken off over the past few years. It’s now a multibillion-dollar industry. And at the front of all of it has been Juul. That’s J-U-U-L. Back in 2018, Juul Labs, which is the company that makes the Juul vape, was valued at $38 billion. But that wouldn’t last very long. Last month, the FDA moved to effectively ban Juul products from being sold in the United States. Now Juul has objected, and a judge stayed the order, but Juul’s fate still kind of hangs in a limbo of legal battles.
Arielle, you wrote a story about all this for WIRED.com. Before we get into the FDA’s crackdown on nicotine products, tell us a little bit about Juul’s backstory. Like when did it launch, and why has this particular vape appealed to so many people?
Arielle Pardes: Sure. So the Juul story really begins in 2014, which is the year that the product was introduced. Juul’s cofounders had been kind of iterating on an e-cigarette for about 10 years prior to that. They met at Stanford, where they were in the masters of design program and—
Lauren Goode: As one does, goes to Stanford, majors in design, makes a cigarette product.