“When I use an e-cigarette, I want an experience similar to smoking cigarettes, but Juul didn’t have it,” he said. “I didn’t get the same kick.” (IQOS is distributed in the U.S. by Altria through an agreement with Philip Morris International.)
Juul’s troubles multiplied in October after South Korean health officials, prompted by the outbreak of lung ailments in the U.S., issued a stark warning about e-liquids, saying they posed the risk of “serious lung damage and even death.”
A month later, the South Korean Army banned e-liquids on all military installations. In December, South Korean health authorities announced the results of testing on a number of vaping products, including the apple orchard flavor formerly made by Juul, and said that in some products they had detected trace amounts of vitamin E acetate, the adulterant U.S. health authorities have linked to most of the lung injury cases.
Juul and other e-cigarette companies say they do not use vitamin E acetate in their products and the American health officials have only found it in cannabis vaping products. Nevertheless, South Korea’s biggest convenience store chains, the primary retail outlets for Juul, removed two or three of the company’s five flavors from shelves. Many smaller stores followed suit.
Overnight, the health warnings turned many South Koreans against vaping.
Kim Ji-Ah, 28, an office worker in Seoul who has been using e-cigarettes for more than a year, said she felt like a pariah.
“People whisper behind my back when I vape,” she said.
Juul would not release sales figures, but sales of e-cigarette liquids overall in South Korea dropped by 90 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, to 1 million pods from 9.8 million from the previous quarter.
The company’s prospects are likely to get worse. Parliament is considering a bill that would phase out the e-liquid flavors that are said to attract young people, and industry executives are bracing themselves for further restrictions.