FTC orders e-cigarette companies to turn over marketing, advertising info

FTC orders e-cigarette companies to turn over marketing, advertising info
© Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is ordering the country’s largest e-cigarette manufacturers to turn over information related to their marketing and promotional practices, ratcheting up pressure on an industry that’s already under intense scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators.

The agency sent orders to companies including Juul Labs, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, Fontem U.S. and NJOY after a 5-0 vote.

The agency has conducted similar studies on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, and has the authority to compel companies to disclose information. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The orders are different from a separate probe into whether Juul deliberately targeted its advertising efforts, including the use of paid “influencers,” to appeal to minors. That probe was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, but the agency has not confirmed its existence.   

According to the FTC, the extensive orders will collect information about e-cigarette sales, advertising and promotional practices in the U.S. for the calendar years 2015 through 2018. 

Among other information, FTC told the companies to disclose data on the sales and giveaways of e-cigarette products; information about product flavors; annual amounts the companies spent on advertising and promoting e-cigarette products, and information about e-cigarette product placement, the websites and social media accounts used to advertise or sell e-cigarettes.

A Juul spokesperson said the company will fully cooperate and is "focused on earning the trust of regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders." A Fontem spokesperson said the company has been working with FTC and plans to respond by the agency's deadline. Logic, another company that received an order, said it plans to respond, but noted that its "strict marketing principles" are different from Juul's. 

The investigation could help shed light on the rapidly growing e-cigarette market, especially among minors. Youth vaping has skyrocketed in the past year, driven largely by teenagers becoming drawn to sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette pods easily accessible in stores. 

Federal statistics showed a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students from 2017 to 2018, and preliminary data showed that number jumped again this year.

E-cigarette companies are facing widespread furor over a mysterious lung illness as well as rising youth vaping rates. The industry’s marketing practices are also the subject of separate congressional, state and federal regulatory probes.