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Juul

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Juul Labs, Inc.
Private
PredecessorPax Labs
FoundedMay 22, 2015; 4 years ago (2015-05-22)
FounderJames Monsees
Adam Bowen
Headquarters,
United States[1]
Area served
United States[2]
Canada[3]
Russia
South Korea
Southeast Asia
Key people
Kevin Burns, CEO
James Monsees, CPO
Adam Bowen, CTO
ProductsElectronic cigarettes
Revenue$2 billion (2018)[4]
OwnerAltria (35%)
Number of employees
1,500 (2018)[5]
Websitewww.juul.com

Juul Labs, Inc. (/ˈl/, stylized as JUUL Labs) is an electronic cigarette company which spun off from Pax Labs in 2017.[6] It makes the Juul e-cigarette, which packages nicotine salts from leaf tobacco into one-time use cartridges.[7]

The Juul became the most popular e-cigarette in the United States at the end of 2017 and has a market share of 72% as of September 2018.[8][9][10] Its widespread use by youth has triggered concern from the public health community and multiple investigations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[1][11]

History

Juul Labs, Inc. was founded on May 22, 2015.[12]

The Juul electronic cigarette was introduced by PAX Labs on June 1, 2015.[7] In July 2017, Juul Labs was spun out of PAX Labs as an independent company,[6] with Tyler Goldman, former CEO of PAX Labs, named as CEO of Juul after the spin-off.[1] It was announced on December 11, 2017 that Goldman "intends to pursue new entrepreneurial opportunities" and was replaced by Kevin Burns.[1] James Monsees is Chief Product Officer[13] and board member at Juul.[1] Adam Bowen is Chief Technology Officer[13] and board member at Juul.[1] Other board members include Nicholas Pritzker, whose family owned chewing tobacco giant Conwood,[11] Riaz Valani, and Hoyoung Huh.[1]

As Juul's products became more popular, the company grew quickly, from employing 200 people in September 2017[14] to 400 in May 2018,[15] 800 by September,[14] 1,110 by October,[16] and 1,500 by the end of the year.[5] The majority of Juul employees are based in San Francisco.[17] Juul Labs quintupled in size in 2018, with the company adding an average of 120 employees each month.[16] As of July 2018, the Juul e-cigarette is manufactured in Shenzhen, China[18] while the pods are made in the United States.[19]

In July 2018, Juul raised $650 million, giving it a valuation of $15 billion.[20]

On December 20, 2018, Altria, one of the world's largest cigarette manufacturers, bought 35% of Juul for $12.8 billion.[21] The purchase was "by far the biggest investment ever in a U.S. venture-backed company."[22] According to Wells Fargo, the deal valued Juul Labs at $38 billion. At the time, Juul had an annual revenue of about $2 billion.[4] CNBC[4] reported that Juul received a $2 billion bonus to distribute among its 1,500 employees.[5]

In April 2018, former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley joined Juul working in the government affairs team to coordinate lobbying on the benefits of the product while advocating against underage usage.[23]

On June 13, 2019, United States House of Representatives launched an investigation into the company looking into the business deal with Altria, social media and advertising practices, and communications. The investigation was spearheaded by Illinois Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.[24]

Founders

Juul Labs was co-founded by two former cigarette smokers, Adam Bowen and James Monsees.[15] They first created a company called Ploom while they were graduate students in product-design at Stanford University, and later created the Pax vaporizer device for cannabis and loose-leaf tobacco before founding Juul.[15] As of August 2018, Bowen is Chief Technology Officer of Juul and Monsees is Chief Product Officer.[13]

Investors

Current company investors include Tiger Global Management, mutual fund firm Fidelity Investments, and Tao Capital.[20] In June 2018, Juul reportedly raised $1.2 billion in a financing round that valued the company at more than $16 billion.[2] Around the same time TPG Capital declined to invest in Juul due to ethical concerns.[25]

Altria (formerly Philip Morris Companies) acquired a 35% stake in Juul Labs for $12.8 billion on December 20, 2018.[26] According to a Wall Street Journal report, Altria's investment in Juul was pushed by the fact that many smokers were switching to the electronic variant and Altria's own e-cigarette product, MarkTen, was not selling well.[27]

Design

Juul vaporizer
Juul vaporizer

Juul e-cigarettes use nicotine salts (protonated nicotine) from leaf-based tobacco for its key ingredient, rather than free-base nicotine.[7] Juul received a US patent for its nicotine salt preparation in 2015.[28] The nicotine salts are said to create an experience more like smoking than other e-cigarettes on the market,[29] as Juul attempts to deliver a nicotine peak in five minutes, similar to a traditional cigarette.[30] Each cartridge (called a "Juul pod") contains about the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes[31] and delivers approximately 200 puffs.[32] The amount of nicotine in each cartridge – 59 mg/ml in the United States,[33] limited to 20 mg/ml in the European Union – is substantially more than the majority of e-cigarettes on the market.[6] In August 2018, Juul introduced pods in 3 percent strengths for its mint and Virginia tobacco flavors.[34] This is equivalent to 30 mg/ml. Each cartridge contains propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings, and nicotine salts.[35] Protonated nicotine lacks the harshness of tobacco smoke.[36] According to Tory Spindle of Johns Hopkins University, "Protonated nicotine formulations are problematic because they seemingly allow users to inhale much higher nicotine concentrations that they would otherwise be able to."[36] Juul pods come in eight flavors,[37] of which mango is the most popular.[38] A Juul starter kit sells for about $50.[39] The Juul e-cigarette is shaped like a USB flash drive[31] and recharges using a magnetic USB dock.[32]

Joel Johnson of co.design described the nicotine intake as "eye-widening" and its aesthetics as "demure".[40] Upon initial release, Ben Radding of Men's Fitness called Juul the "iPhone of E-cigs", but said that it required "getting used to".[30] The comparison to the iPhone and other Apple products has been made by many other commentators.[37][38] Pharmacologist James Pauly, a specialist in nicotine, notes that Juul delivers more nicotine than other e-cigarettes, and that the salts also may reduce the harshness, making it easier for new smokers, such as teenagers, to consume more nicotine than they are aware of.[41]

Usage

Prevalence among adolescents

Juul's products have become immensely popular among teenagers, raising concerns among the public health community that long-term declines in youth nicotine use are being reversed.[42][43][44] An October 2018 study of 13,000 Americans found that 9.5% of teenagers aged 15–17 and 11% of young adults aged 18–21 currently use Juul, and that teenagers age 15–17 are 16 times more likely to be Juul users than 25–34 year olds.[42] Juul use is also very popular among middle school and high school students;[45][46] with one in five students between 12 and 17 having seen a Juul used in school.[47] Teenagers use the verb "Juuling" to describe their use of Juul.[11][48][49]

The National Drug Trends of 2018 revealed increasing adolescent use of e-cigarettes, including the Juul. Cigarette smoking rates among 12th graders continued to decline as it has been for two decades. On the other hand, the increase in vaping rates from 2017 to 2018 was the largest gap recorded since the study began in 1975. Researchers hypothesize this may be due to the number of educational programs implemented to warn youth of the risks of cigarette smoking, while there is still a lack of programs regarding vaping devices. The percentage of 12th grade students who reported vaping nicotine almost doubled, from 11% in 2017 to 21% in 2018. Among 10th graders, the percentage doubled from 8% to 16%.[50] Furthermore, a Truth Initiative study found that of 15 to 17-year-old teenagers who use Juul, 56% used the device more than three times a month. Over 25% of teenagers reported using the Juul more than ten times a month. These findings suggest that teenagers are not just experimenting with Juuls, but rather using them on a regular basis.[42] The creators of the Juul, James Monsees and Adam Bowen, claim the mission of the Juul is to improve adult smokers' lives by eliminating cigarettes.[51]

Many reasons have been proposed for Juul's popularity among teenagers, including adolescents' misperception that Juul is safe, ease of concealment, sleek high-tech design, and fruity pod flavors.[52][53]

A 2015 Stanford University study analyzing adolescents’ perceptions of risks and benefits of conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes found that some of the participants believed that e-cigarettes did not contain nicotine, only water vapor.[54] Additionally, the 2017 Truth Initiative survey found 63% of teens and young adults did not understand that the Juul products they used always contains nicotine.[55] A lack of educational programs and public health campaigns regarding the use of e-cigarettes and Juuls reflect how teenagers may perceive these devices as many of the risks are still unknown.[54] Former PAX Labs CEO Goldman said to Fortune in 2016 that "Juul should not be used by those under the legal age, nor should any nicotine products, as stated by the U.S. Surgeon General."[56] In 2018 Matt Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the design "misleads about risk" of addiction.[45]

Juul's resemblance to a flash drive and very compact size makes it easy to conceal,[46] and its low vapor output and subtle scent,[38] which can be passed off as perfume,[38] mean that it can be used discreetly, even in class.[46][57] Accordingly, it is easy to conceal in clothing or elsewhere; a high school in Newton, Massachusetts discovered a Juul disguised as a Sharpie, for instance.[58] Juul's resemblance to an iPhone, as well as its compact and high-tech design, are other commonly cited reasons for its rising popularity among young people.[15][57][33]

Juul's sweet flavors, especially the fruit and crème brûlée ones, are especially attractive to teenagers, according to journalists,[15][38] academics,[33][46] and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[59] Unlike cigarette smoke's smell, Juuls can emit a fruity scent when vaped.[60] In a 2016 study by the CDC and FDA, 31% of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes claimed they used them due to the availability of flavors.[61] In response, Juul renamed some flavors—"cool cucumber" to "cucumber", "crème brûlée" to "creme", and "classic menthol" to "menthol"—saying that it "heard the criticism" and "responded by simplifying the names and losing the descriptors."[11]

Many of Juul's early marketing campaigns were youth-orientated, with prominent use of social media, youth-friendly themes, and young models pictured using Juuls. In response to the FDA crackdown on Juul, the company announced they would be using real customers who were using the product to switch from smoking instead of models. As of November 2018, Juul has shut down their social media accounts.[62]

A May 2018 Truth Initiative survey found that 74% of Juul users ages 12–17 obtained their Juul device from a brick and mortar store, 52% from a friend or family member, and 6% online (respondents could select multiple answers).[63] For context, Juul estimates that 90% of its sales are in brick and mortar stores.[48] The survey also found that 89% of youth attempts to buy a Juul online succeeded.[63] However, Juul changed its age-verification policies in October 2018 in response to FDA pressure, with employees manually checking drivers licenses against public records for exact matches, rejecting anyone under 21 but also rejecting or deterring many adults.[62]

Health concerns

The potential health effects of Juul use are still unclear. A comprehensive report concludes that there is substantial evidence that nicotine intake from e-cigarettes and cigarettes can be comparable. Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain fewer toxic substances and carcinogens compared to conventional cigarettes.[64] In youth, there is substantial evidence that using e-cigarettes increases the chance of smoking conventional cigarettes.[64] A 2017 study published in the journal Nature concluded that "exposure to e-cigs could endanger human health, particularly among younger more vulnerable consumers."[65] Researchers are actively investigating the short and long term effects of electronic cigarettes on the heart and lungs.[66]

In a documentary for CNBC, Burns said that the effect of vaping on Juul users, including minors, is unknown. Burns told Carl Quintanilla, "Frankly, we don't know today. We have not done the long-term, longitudinal clinical testing that we need to do."[67]

Nicotine content

Although e-cigarettes such as the Juul may help adults quit smoking cigarettes, studies have shown that there is substantial evidence that the use of e-cigarettes among youth exposes them to the risk of developing a nicotine dependency and increases the risk of them transitioning to smoking conventional cigarettes.[64] One Juul pod contains the same amount of nicotine as one to two packs of cigarettes.[60] The nicotine content of Juuls is higher than other e-cigarette brands with its volume of e-liquid containing 5% nicotine, almost double the amount of other brands. Juul pods also contain a greater amount of benzoic acid, 44.8 mg/mL, as compared to other brands, which contain around 0.2 to 2 mg/mL.[68] Constant exposure to benzoic acid can lead to coughing, sore throat, and abdominal pain.[69]

Juuls are unique from other e-cigarettes in that they use nicotine salts rather than freebase nicotine in order to reproduce the effects of conventional cigarettes. Nicotine salts are also less acidic than freebase nicotine, making them easier to inhale. Additionally, nicotine salts are more readily absorbed into the bloodstream at a rate similar to conventional cigarettes. Due to its lack of irritation and easiness to inhale, users may be unaware of how much nicotine they are actually intaking.[69]

Ari Atkins, Pax Labs' R&D engineer, said "We don't think a lot about addiction here because we’re not trying to design a cessation product at all."[32] He added, "anything about health is not on our mind."[32] In April 2018, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb stated that the nicotine in Juul is sufficient to result in addiction.[70] Gottlieb further stated, "In some cases, our kids are trying these products and liking them without even knowing they contain nicotine. And that's a problem, because as we know the nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent's brain, leading to years of addiction."[70]

Effect of nicotine on the adolescent brain

In late 2018, news reports noted increasing rates of Juul addiction in teenagers,[71] which negatively impacts brain development and relationships.[72] Juul's high nicotine content has attracted concern because of nicotine's addictive properties and also because nicotine can cause impaired lung and brain development, especially of the prefrontal cortex, which affects judgement and impulse control.[72][73] Particular concern has been expressed about the lack of vaping cessation treatments for adolescents,[72] and the FDA scheduled a public hearing on youth vaping cessation for January 18, 2019.[74]

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are ligand-gated ion channels that can respond to nicotine. nAChR subtypes are located throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. The most abundant nAChR subtype, α4β2, has the highest affinity for nicotine. These receptors are mostly desensitized in the brains of smokers. Preclinical studies using rodents have shown that nicotine produces age-specific behavioral responses that differ between adolescents and adults. For instance, acute nicotine exposure enhanced locomotor activity in adolescents while it decreased locomotor activity in adults. Exposure to nicotine in adolescents also affects serotonin levels.[75]

Concerns about the effect of nicotine delivered by Juul on the developing adolescent brain led to a lawsuit against the company. The suit, filed in US District Court in New York in June 2018, alleged that Juul contains more nicotine than necessary to satisfy an adult smoker, and that use of Juul by the 15-year-old son of the plaintiff made him "heavily addicted to nicotine" causing him to be "anxious, highly irritable and prone to angry outbursts".[76]

Food and Drug Administration investigations

After the FDA investigation on youth vaping, Juul reduced the promotion of some sweet flavors.

In April 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested that Juul Labs turn over documents to "better understand the reportedly high rates of youth use and the particular youth appeal of these products."[11][70] The FDA's request included asking the company to provide documents about the design and marketing of the Juul, research on the safety of the products, and whether certain features of the device's design appeal to specific age groups.[70] FDA also asked eBay to remove several listings of Juul products, which eBay complied with.[70] FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb expressed concern about how the Juul can be easily disguised as a USB flash drive and that the Juul delivers a high amount of nicotine.[70] "We don't yet fully understand why these products are so popular among youth," Dr. Gottlieb said, adding that "These documents may help us get there."[77] In response, Juul Labs stated that they would spend $30 million on a campaign to keep Juul out of the hands of young people in addition to working with the FDA, which they announced in a press release in April 2018.[78] Juul Labs also announced their support for raising the minimum age for vaping products from 18 to 21.[79] Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns said, "we are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke from using our products. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL."[80] The FDA followed up by issuing more than 60 warning letters and fines to stores that were found to be illegally selling Juul products to minors.[81]

In September 2018, the FDA sent letters to Juul Labs and the manufacturers of the four other largest e-cigarette brands in the US—R.J. Reynolds' Vuse, Altria's MarkTen, Imperial Brands' blu eCigs, and Japan Tobacco International's Logic—giving them 60 days to lay out their plans to address widespread youth use of their products.[59] If they fail to comply, FDA may "remove some or all of their flavored products that may be contributing to the rise in youth use from the market."[59] FDA also sent over 1,300 warning letters to stores that undercover investigators had found to be selling Juul and other e-cigarettes to minors,[59] and issued 131 fines ranging from $279 to $11,182.[82] Juul responded with a statement that "JUUL Labs will work proactively with FDA in response to its request."[83] A Juul spokeswoman also announced that Juul has its own patrol of retailers who advertise to youths or who do not enforce age requirements, noting that it had requested the removal of over 5,500 posts from Instagram, 144 posts from Facebook Marketplace, and 33 from Amazon.com.[82] In total, Instagram removed 4,562 of 5,500 posts, Facebook Marketplace removed 45 of 145, and Amazon took down 13 of 33.[82] An April 2018 survey by the Truth Initiative found that 89% of adolescents who attempted to buy Juul online succeeded,[63] however, and Gottlieb said that Juul's efforts "didn't have the intended impact or I wouldn't be viewing the statistics I'm now seeing."[82]

The FDA made an unannounced inspection of Juul headquarters in late-September 2018 to gather information on the firm's marketing methods.[84] FDA announced afterwards that it had seized thousands of pages of documents on Juul Labs' marketing practices.[37] Shares of three Big Tobacco companies—Altria, Philip Morris International, and British American Tobacco—rose at the news of the inspection.[37]

On November 13, 2018, 60 days after the FDA's ultimatum, Juul announced it would stop accepting retail orders for mango, fruit, creme, and cucumber Juul pods in compliance with the FDA's investigation. Juul will continue to sell tobacco, mint and menthol pods in retail stores, and noted that it will renew retail sales of its other flavors at stores that invest in age-verification technology. In addition, the company said they would shut down their Facebook and Instagram accounts in the U.S. that promote the use of flavored pods, which entice underage users.[85]

In June 2019, the City of San Francisco passed legislation banning the sale of e-cigarettes online as well as offline, and a separate ordinance preventing e-cigarette manufacturers from occupying city-owned property.[86] Proponents of the bill have said that they want the bill to serve as a warning to Juul that they were not wanted in the city. The decision to ban sales to the city was to ensure that the FDA began its pre-market review of e-cigarette products immediately. The San Francisco Port Commission, which owns and operates the heritage structure at Pier 70, has supported the legislation to prevent Juul and also companies that are active in the tobacco, firearms and alcohol business from occupying property that belongs to the city.[87] Because the June 2019 ordinance did not apply retroactively, Juul was able to maintain its location at Pier 70.[86]

Market share

United States

Sales of Juul increased 700% in 2016.[45] As of October 2018, Juul accounts for over 70% of the US e-cigarette market monitored by Nielsen.[8][9] Juul's market share in the US has increased by 10 percentage points since April 2018.[88] According to Juul Labs, 90% of Juul products are purchased at retail stores as of August 2018.[37] Juul plans to sell their products internationally.[2]

According to Dow Jones VentureSource, Juul Labs was the sixth-most valuable US startup in July 2018, behind Uber and Airbnb[20] Juul's revenue in 2018 was over $1 billion,[89] up from approximately $245 million in 2017.[90] Sales totaled $1.1 billion for the year ending July 2018.[57]

Juul's success has inspired a flood of imitators, namely pod-mod devices with similar boxy designs.[91] These devices come from companies ranging from startups to "Big Tobacco" company R.J. Reynolds.[92] The company filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in early-October 2018 over counterfeit products manufactured by companies in the United States and China that Juul Labs says infringed on its US patents.[93] The complaint seeks to end importation of these products into the US.[93] In February 2019, Juul sued several companies for infringing on its trademarks, among which was a cartoon logo titled the Juul Monster.[94]

International

In May 2018, Juul started selling in Israel, which did not regulate e-cigarettes at the time.[95] Israel later banned JUUL in August 2018, citing public health concerns, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.[96] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, acting in his capacity as Health Minister,[97] placed a complete ban on Juul because it delivers nearly three times Israel's recommended amount of 20 mg/ml of nicotine.[96][97] Juul has appealed the ban to Israel's High Court of Justice.[97]

In July 2018, Juul announced it would launch in the United Kingdom.[98] Flavours sold in the UK have slightly different names from the American versions and contain 1.7% nicotine, translating to 20 mg/ml, to comply with local regulations.[99] In August 2018, Juul introduced its products in Canada, starting with an online launch before introducing them to vape shops, gas stations, and convenience stores in early September.[3]

Juul launched in Russia in late-2018[100] and launched in South Korea in May 2019.[101]

In January 2019, Juul announced plans for a launch in India.[102] In response, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare called for the device to be banned from India, citing concerns that it could derail the government's anti-tobacco programs.[103] The regulation of e-cigarettes in India is disputed between the government and the judiciary. Six states have banned their use, though the Delhi High Court has stayed the bans.[104] As such, Juul e-cigarettes are not legally available in India and they are commonly sold on the Gray market for as much as $100 for the starter kit that costs $29 in the United States.[105]

In June 2019, they announced plans for their products to be available in the Philippine market.[106]

Marketing

Juul has been intensively marketed via Instagram and other social media.[107] Of the $2.2 million Juul spent on marketing in 2015 and 2016, $1 million went to online marketing, according to data from Kantar Media.[33] Juul's heavy reliance on social media marketing is unique among major e-cigarette brands in the US—blu and NJOY were initially promoted mainly with television advertising while Vuse and MarkTen relied on promotional expenditures to consumers and retailers—and is touted as a major reason for its success.[11][33] Juul's use of social media marketing is also relatively inexpensive: to promote Vuse, R. J. Reynolds Vapor Company spent over $16 million on television ads alone in 2015 and 2016, according to Kantar data.[33] A 2018 study found that "JUUL's social media activities were highly correlated with JUUL retail sales."[33]

Juul's marketing has been criticized for targeting youth. The themes emphasized in Juul's marketing, especially freedom, relaxation, and sex appeal;[33] the use of young models and imagery claimed to be appealing to young people;[11][15] and the use of social media influencers and affiliates popular among youth are three reasons why many consider Juul's marketing to be targeting youth.[15][33][108] In 2015, John Schachter, director of state communications for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), voiced concern regarding the youth of men and women portrayed in Juul's advertising, particularly in combination with the design, stating that "We're seeing more and more irresponsible marketing of unregulated products such as e-cigarettes."[109] Similarly, CTFK Vice President of Communications Wilmore stated that Juul Labs "used the same imagery and themes that tobacco companies have always used to appeal to kids, and they fueled it with social media."[57]

Juul Labs argues that its marketing is targeted at adult cigarette smokers who are looking to quit.[110] The rectangular design of the Juul e-cigarette, for example, was chosen to avoid reminding smokers of a cigarette,[15] according to a Juul executive.[111] In September 2018, Juul implemented a new marketing code to avoid the appearance of targeting youth.[110] Changes brought about by the new code include only showcasing former smokers age 35 or older in ads,[11] no longer featuring models on social media,[110] removing social media accounts that marketed to teenagers, including @Doit4JUUL, which had more followers than the main Juul account,[15] and adding the label "the alternative for adult smokers" to its packaging and many of its ads.[15] Juul took down all of its social media accounts that November.[62]

Juul's marketing has been the focus of two lawsuits filed against the company since April 2018. The suits, both filed in California, claim that Juul was deceptively marketed as safe even though a Juul pod contains as much nicotine as an average pack of cigarettes.[3] According to the first suit, filed in US District Court in April, "the intense dosage of nicotine salts delivered by the Juul products resulted in an increased nicotine addiction, and an increased consumption of nicotine by [plaintiff] Colgate."[108]

In January 2019, Juul announced a $10 million advertising campaign for cable television and radio, which targets current adult smokers and attempts to rebrand Juul as a switching product.[112][113]

In March 2019, it was reported that Juul was pitching itself to employers and insurers to help their employees stop smoking cigarettes. As part of its "enterprise marketing", Juul is reportedly looking at identifying participants and offer them discounted products as well as "coaching" and other support including educational articles and instructional videos.[114]

See also

References

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Further reading

External links