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Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul Series – Full Summary and Review

Follow Along with Canada Vapes as we watch The Rise and Fall of Juul.

Episode 1: The Spark

Episode one of “The Rise and Fall of Juul” starts us off with introducing us to the founders of Juul and how their product came to be. James Monsees and Adam Bowen had one thing in common–their love of smoking. Not only was the vice a way to relax and de-stress, but also a unique way of socializing and making new friends. Aware of the harmful side effects of cigarettes, the duo wanted to replicate these feelings in a safer and easier way. Thus, Ploom was born. 

The first e-cigarette the Stanford tech bros launched was a butane powered device that burned tobacco in a way that made it less harmful to inhale, more of a vapor than a smoke. Many flaws ensued with the Ploom, mainly how inconvenient it was to carry around a canister of butane for refilling purposes. Sales weren’t doing as well as the company expected, and the company decided to pivot their research and introduce a better product.

Pax by Ploom: The Tech Bros First Success

Pax by Ploom was a great success, but not in the ways Monsees and Bowen expected. The Pax was a battery powered unit that was designed to burn tobacco on the go. It was rechargeable, pocket friendly and could be used within seconds. After all of the experimenting and hard work the company had put into Ploom, they finally thought they’d created the optimal product to help smokers. The only problem? The Pax was only popular among marijuana users. Although Ploom was still getting sales and their product was well known, it still wasn’t satisfying the founders. Their product wasn’t reaching their target audience, and they were still determined to reach their original goal.

More Designing Innovation:

Getting back to the drawing board, more prototypes and research was conducted. Instead of taking time to enjoy the success of Pax, the group was determined to complete their big project. The engineers and designers got to work once again, looking to invent a way to smoke that was easy, satisfying and cool. Eventually in 2014, the almighty Juul was created. Testers couldn’t believe its power, and everyone at Ploom immediately knew they’d finally done it.

This sleek little device–reminiscent of an Apple product– was going to change the world. With no buttons or set up of any kind required, Monsees and Bowen knew that the Juul was going to be the hallmark of their careers. The Juul was compact and small with highly concentrated nicotine pods that testers reported caused them to almost pass out upon first trying them. They covered all the basics with their initial flavours–Fruit, mint, tobacco and creme brulee. They had something for everyone.


While Juul founders and employees were riding on the high of their magnificent new invention, they had no idea what was in store for them just a few years down the line. Controversies, lawsuits and more were soon to ensue, and the magic of the Juul would soon come to an end.


Episode 2: First Impressions

While the general public were deciding their opinions on the Juul, headquarters were busy troubleshooting issues they had with the device. E-liquid spitting was a major complaint by testers and customers alike. Employees found that in a pack of 5 pods, almost 1 in 5 leaked. One employee even said he couldn’t eat creme brulee anymore due to getting the Brulee flavour spat into his mouth so often. About a month before launch, the team didn’t have a solution for their pod issues. So, by the wise words of James Monsees, “F*** it, ship it” was their only choice.


With Juul launched and made available to the public, advertisement was everywhere. It was impossible not to know what a Juul was, and even more impossible not to see your favourite influencer or celebrity using one. College kids were going wild over this new and cool way to smoke, and everyone who was anyone had one in their hand at every party. Juul had ads featured on billboards, magazines, television, social media and more. There was a certain glamour to the way Juul presented their product, and not everyone was on board with it.

Controversies first started to arise when the public started comparing Juul’s ads to old cigarette ads, including Newport, and how they sexualized and romanticized smoking. Despite their outreach on social media, the Juul wasn’t doing so well in the real world at this time. Smoke shops didn’t want to carry it, and they were difficult to find in stores. It seemed that Juul’s reputation hadn’t taken off yet, and people were still unsure about them. 


Episode 3: Where’s my Juul? The Rise

So begins the Juul addiction epidemic as more and more teens and young adults find themselves unable to stop Juuling. At first, as many say, it was a fun weekend activity, something to do to look cool. But with many people actually unaware of the side effects and uneducated on nicotine addiction, Juulers were finding themselves in a sticky situation. Underage kids were also catching wind of the new trend, and although sales were booming, kids vaping was not looking good for the brand. On the other hand, folks who had actually quit smoking from the Juul were trying to make their voices heard. Former smokers knew what the Juul had done for them, and wanted to suppress the controversy with their stories. 

In order to combat some of Juul’s controversies and keep their image professional and adult oriented, the company made some changes to their advertising. Eliminating bright colours and instead opting for blacks, whites and greys, their goal was to “represent the adult smoker”. Boring and prude, Juul hoped these changes could give them a fresh start.

In light of adults noticing teens becoming addicted to the Juul, parents across the nation were growing increasingly concerned. PAVE (Parents Against Vaping E-Cigarettes) was founded by 3 women whose children were victims of the Juul epidemic with the goal to make a change and raise awareness. 

Meanwhile, Juul decided to partner with Altria, the company that manufactures Marlboro cigarettes. It was a huge and controversial decision for Juul to partner with big tobacco, especially since Juul’s main message was to eradicate cigarettes. Not everyone at the company was happy and in fact, most were downright angry. Employees were considering quitting and overall, the choice did not go over well. Many employees asked, “why?”, and there was only one answer: Money. 


Episode 4: Juul Made Overnight Billionaires

What felt like overnight, Juul was suddenly a multi-million dollar company thanks to big tobacco. Employees were thrilled, reigning in their wealth. But the reputation of Juul had plummeted drastically. The very thing Juul wanted to kill off were now their business partners, and customers had mixed emotions. Despite Juul partnering with a cigarette brand, they were still encouraging making the switch from smoking to vaping through the Make the Switch campaign and advertising. Altria’s desperation to partner with Juul was due to the fact that vaping really was overtaking smoking, and big tobacco was losing more and more money everyday. 

Addiction and Disease, Fall of Juul and vapes

Meanwhile, teen nicotine addiction was still having a massive impact on society. Parents were concerned, and the issue was only worsening. Juuls were accessible to teens and kids, and it seems like everyone who was anyone was hooked on the Juul. In The Rise and Fall of Juul, Ksenia Benes, a victim of teen vaping, tells her story of how she ended up in the ICU with respiratory failure after Juuling for long periods of time. Along with Ksenia, more and more kids and teens were showing up to the hospital with the same symptoms and all with one thing in common–Juuling. Deaths and serious illnesses were reported more and more frequently. There was a major panic across the USA.

EVALI–the official diagnosis given to these teens, a new disease no one had ever heard of. “E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury” was the sickness sweeping the nation, and doctors were up to their ears in diagnosis. Collapsed lungs, breathing difficulty and permanent lung damage were just some of the devastating side effects of EVALI.

Juul’s Rising Controversy

Protests rose, headlines were booming and sales were rapidly declining. Juul employees felt the terror, and realized something big was happening that they wouldn’t be able to bounce back from. 

Suddenly, a breakthrough came through. Vitamin E acetate was the substance found in almost every EVALI case. Researchers discovered this was likely the main ingredient causing the widespread sicknesses. Illegal THC cartridges contained the vitamin, and many kids who used a Juul would also use these THC pens. Was Juul’s reputation saved once again? Although it was discovered that these vaping related illnesses were linked to THC cartridges and not Juul, the media didn’t back down. To the public’s eye, vaping was all the same, regardless of contents. Juul was still under scrutiny and suffering greatly.

Within just a few months, flavoured vaping was banned across multiple US state. The CDC refused to clear Juul’s name. With a new CEO, and Adam and James, the original founders, leaving the company. It was clear the end was near. 

Juul is still kicking!

As of 2023, Juul miraculously remains on the market, despite the FDA doing their best to ban them. Juul survived their $3 billion in lawsuits. The future of Juul is undetermined, and for the time being, they remain only as a memory.

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Overall, The Rise and Fall of Juul was an endearing and educational watch. Vapers and vape companies alike can take note and learn a lesson. It was truly interesting to see how the documentary played out. Very compelling to see the rise and fall of Juul in real time. Hearing from former employees, Juul users and influencers was eye-opening. It’s shocking to see the impact Juul had on society. Everyone knew the name, but now everyone knows the story. Juul will go down in history and truly will be remembered as the grandfather of vaping. This docu-series serves as a memorable story about 2 tech bros who just wanted to make a difference. 

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