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Juul pitched products to Native American tribes, congressional investigation finds

Juul pitched products to Native American tribes, congressional investigation finds
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Juul targeted Native American tribes when trying to sell their e-cigarette products, according to a report released by Congressional investigators Wednesday. 

The company, which is one of the most popular e-cigarette brands in the U.S., is under fire by the Trump administration and Congress for its marketing tactics and rising youth vaping rates.

Juul, responding to questions from the House Oversight and Reform Committee, also admitted to pitching its products to leaders of at least eight Native American tribes. 

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Between December 2018 and February 2019, Juul met with leadership from the Moapa Band of the Paiute Tribe, the Lummi Nation, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the S'Klallahm Tribe and the Chickasaw Nation to discuss their products.

Juul representatives discussed the concept of a "switching program" for current cigarette smokers, according to the report. 

Under the program, Juul would provide discounted products to tribes during a 90-day period while collecting participant data at certain intervals. 

Juul told Congress no agreements were made and the company terminated the program in Spring 2019. 

A witness representing the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe told the committee during a public hearing in July that Juul representatives claimed their products were effective for smoking cessation and less harmful than tobacco products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating whether Juul broke the law in its presentations to tribe leaders. 

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After the July hearing, the FDA wrote in a letter to Juul that it is concerned about the company's communications with tribes and asked the company to produce more information and documents. 

But Juul argued in its response to the committee that such claims are not against federal law because the materials were presented to tribal leaders and not consumers and were not promotional in nature. 

"The materials were non-promotional in nature and focused primarily on JUUL products as a switching device, which FDA explicitly allows, so long as the materials do not suggest use to help cure or treat nicotine addition," Juul wrote in its response. 

It was previously not publicly known that Juul had met with other tribes to discuss their products. 

Smoking rates among Native Americans and Alaska Natives are the highest in the country compared to all other racial and ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Some Native Americans use tobacco for ceremonial, religious or medicinal purposes, the CDC says. 

Juul is already facing scrutiny for its role in what public health experts call a youth vaping "epidemic." 

An estimated 27.5 percent of high school students, and 10.5 percent of middle school students, said they had used e-cigarettes in the past month, according to a study published in November by government researchers.

Among those that said they used e-cigarettes, 59 percent of high school students and 54 percent of middle school students said Juul was their “usual” brand.

In September, the FDA warned Juul that it had illegally marketed its products as less harmful than cigarettes in other instances. 

The FDA specifically cited examples from the hearing as evidence, including a Juul representative telling students at a school visit that their products were "much safer than cigarettes."

“The Subcommittee’s investigation has already forced significant changes to the industry’s troubling practices thus far,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who launched the investigation as the chairman of the subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. 

 "I hope that this new information, coupled with rigorous oversight from multiple entities, will continue to move us closer to protecting another child from nicotine addiction."

Updated at 5:09 pm.