Eonsmoke and the other companies deny targeting minors.
Eonsmoke argues that Juul’s patents are invalid. “Juul has tweaked some very simple standard ways to basically heat up and vaporize a liquid and puff on it,” Mr. Lobbin said. “They haven’t figured out a way to get to Mars.”
Ziip, which designs and manufactures dozens of different flavor pods and devices is also under investigation by the F.D.A., which said that it, like Eonsmoke, might have products on the market illegally.
Like Eonsmoke, Ziip claims that Juul’s technology is either the same or very close to what was previously invented, invalidating its patents.
“Juul is trying to gain a virtual monopoly over the e-cigarette industry in the United States,” said Steven Susser, a lawyer for Ziip. He also blamed Juul’s marketing practices for putting the industry under a microscope.
“All Ziip wants to do is to offer a less expensive, and what it believes to be a better quality, alternative,” he said. Ziip sells dozens of Juul-compatible flavors including Froopy, Iced Pina Colada, Cinnamon Roll and Strawberry Lemonade.
In documents filed with the trade commission, Juul called its vaping system “a runaway success” and said that the devices and nicotine pods manufactured and sold by the accused companies were based on stolen intellectual property. Juul also raised questions about its competitors’ quality control, although in an interview it did not give any specific examples of problems.
Melanie Milin, co-founder of Vapor4Life, said her company had always told prospective customers not to start vaping if they don’t already smoke. The company offers products in a range of nicotine levels to encourage people who vape to taper off and quit.
The showdown has stirred up mixed feelings among the tobacco-control crowd.
“It is hard to root for Juul in a corporate fight about who profits from nicotine addiction,” Mr. Bostic said. “But from a purely public health perspective, an I.T.C. decision in their favor would at least get some products aimed at children off the market. All of these should be banned, and a growing number of jurisdictions are doing just that.”