House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted children, teens

House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted children, teens
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Juul deliberately targeted children and teenagers in an effort to become the country’s largest e-cigarette manufacturer, a House panel claimed Thursday.

The company “deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children,” the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee claimed.

The remarks were laid out in a memo detailing the results of an investigation launched by the House panel last month. The investigation, unveiled during a hearing with Juul executives and summarized in the subsequent memo, is based on approximately 55,000 nonpublic documents that the company gave to the subcommittee and the Massachusetts attorney general. 

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The report was spearheaded by Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — FDA says Juul illegally marketed e-cigarettes | AMA warns against vaping after deaths | Two Planned Parenthood clinics to close in Ohio FDA says Juul illegally marketed e-cigarettes MORE (D-Ill.), chairman of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, who launched the investigation into the company’s marketing practices last month. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) is also investigating.

In one instance, the investigation found documents showing that Juul operated a division that paid schools at least $10,000 to let Juul representatives have access to students during class, summer school and weekend programs for kids caught vaping in school. 

The intent was to demonstrate that Juul can be an alternative to traditional cigarettes and to demonstrate how Juul is different from Big Tobacco companies.

In another example, the committee found that Juul paid $134,000 to set up a five-week summer camp for 80 children at a Baltimore charter school from grades 3 through 12.

Internal Juul emails showed company officials said they were aware their strategies to reach kids both in and outside of school were “eerily similar” to those used by large cigarette makers.

During the hearing, Juul Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould said the company discontinued the program in 2018 after learning about the similarities to the anti-smoking campaigns used by tobacco companies.

Juul co-founder James Monsees tried to distance himself from Big Tobacco, even though Juul is now partially owned by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris International, which makes Marlboro cigarettes. 

Democrats at the hearing blamed Juul for the massive spike in youth vaping, which federal officials have called a public health “epidemic.” 

Monsees told lawmakers he never wanted the product to be used by minors.

"We never wanted any non-nicotine user, and certainly nobody underage, to ever use Juul products," Monsees said, while acknowledging that the data show otherwise. "Our company has no higher priority than fighting" underage use. 

Monsees emphasized that Juul is meant to be an alternative for adult smokers. He said that unlike tobacco companies, "we embrace appropriate regulation." 

Juul has been on the front lines of advocating to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21. 

"Put simply, Juul Labs isn't Big Tobacco," Monsees said. 

Monsees noted that Juul has taken steps to make sure that young people are not using its product. The company has removed its flavored pods from retail stores, beefed up its age-verification processes for purchasing online and shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts. 

The hearing, which was the second in two days, marked the first time Juul executives have been called to testify before Congress about the youth vaping epidemic. 

“We must trace the origins that led to this epidemic, expose the health risks associated with vaping, and hold accountable anyone and everyone who knowingly put children in harm’s way,” Krishnamoorthi said.