Kim Delmonico OCBMAGONLINE correspondent

JUUL Claims it Never Targeted Teens

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping has now been associated with 2,506 hospitalizations and 54 confirmed deaths in the United States.

Amid increasing media attention and public health concern, Juul has continuously claimed that their mission was always to give adults a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. The company says it never marketed or knowingly sold e-cigarettes to teens or non-smokers.

“We never wanted any non-nicotine user and certainly nobody underage to ever use Juul products,” Juul co-founder James Monsees stated during testimony at a congressional hearing in July. However, a recent NY Times investigation reported that the company set the stage for a public health crisis by both intentionally marketing to a generation with low smoking rates, and ignoring evidence that teens were using its e-cigarettes and flavored nicotine pods.

According to former executives, investors and employees as well as reviews of legal filings and social media archives, Juul was able to salvage and ultimately dominate the e-cigarette business by targeting millennial consumers and youth. This was part of a tremendous effort to capture market share before increased government regulations on vaping.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease estimate that six million adults began using e-cigarettes between 2016 and 2018. During that time, millions of children and teens began vaping. Over five million youth now vape, according to a report released by the CDC and the FDA this summer. As early as 2017, as evidence of teen e-cigarette use increased, Juul refused to sign a pledge not to market to teens as part of a legal settlement. It was not until the FDA required it in 2018 that the company added a nicotine warning label to packaging.

Today, Juul is facing lawsuits from school districts, parents, counties and states, including California and New York. The FDA, the Federal Trade Commission, Northern California’s attorney’s office and several states are currently investigating Juul. A California suit filed this month said that Juul instructed brand ambassadors to target “people who fit the JUUL demographic” such as “smokers, cool kids, fun people, etc.”

The company has recently stopped sales of most flavors as well as broadcast, print and digital advertising; and offered $100 million in incentives for retailers to adopt a new electronic age-verification system. Many states are allowing for an all-out ban on vaping products.

A recent article on Yahoo Finance reports that “In Ohio, the state’s governor called for a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarette vaping products, including mint and menthol, although the ban will not include tobacco-flavored products. At the same time, Ohio’s popular cannabis publication, ‘Ohio Cannabusiness Magazine’ offered its readers helpful ways to identify and avoid illicit products with a product chart and recent Instagram post.”

Cannabis advocates and activists have largely blamed e-cigarettes as the cause for vaping illnesses and deaths. Those caused by cannabis products, they argue, are due to black-market products with dangerous chemical additives. Pennsylvania lawmakers are arguing that if weed were legal, people might be less likely to seek out bootleg vape products with potentially dangerous ingredients. Governor Tom Wolf recently introduced a bill proposing the legalization of recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania, partly in reaction to recent vaping-related deaths.

Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University and a tobacco industry expert argues, “It makes sense for states to legalize cannabis and strictly regulate it. States should not be banning e-cigarettes, but instead implementing strict safety regulations. I think this is the primary lesson from the outbreak.”

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