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A House subcommittee is investigating Juul Lab’s marketing of its vaping devices directly to adolescents as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.
The maker of Juul e-cigarettes has come under fire by a congressional committee for allegedly disguising an anti-smoking campaign aimed at children and teenagers as self-promotion for the use of its own vaping devices as a safe alternative to cigarettes.
At a 2-day hearing before the US House Oversight and Reform’s Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee, executives from Juul Labs were questioned about their rebranding of tobacco prevention materials produced by Stanford University into Juul’s own marketing program for children promoting the safety of its vaping devices and disguising those materials as anti-tobacco education seminars for schools and other youth-oriented programs. Juul offered to pay schools to set up these programs and to talk about tobacco addiction and the safety of vaping as an alternative to cigarettes to students in their classrooms or after school as well as at summer camps.
Juul has denied targeting young persons, says its products were never intended for teenagers, and reiterates its products are designed for adults looking for a safer alternative to inhaling combustible/carcinogenic materials through smoking cigarettes. However, the nicotine contained in Juul pods is highly addictive, especially for young persons experimenting with vaping.
The company also was questioned about its initiative to recruit online “influencers” to promote vaping devices to children, using appealing fruit- and sweets-flavored nicotine pods to attract young smokers, and sell products online without verifying buyers’ ages.
Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had threatened to remove Juul devices and nicotine pods from the market if the company did not restrict sales to children and teenagers, which, the government says, is creating a new generation of nicotine addicts. Juul says it since has complied with the government demands and ended its social media campaigns, as well as suspend sales of fruity-flavored Juul pods in retail stores and require age verification for online sales.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that in 2018, 20.8% of high school students and 4.9% of middle school students report vaping in the previous month, up from 11.7% and 3.3%, respectively, from 2017. There is a bill before the US Senate that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from age 18 years to age 21 years. Eighteen states already have passed such legislation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids also testified at the hearing. The AAP has called for raising the age for the sale and purchase of tobacco products to 21 years and also for the removal of Juul from US markets.