If you had imagined you would be hearing of a company selling nicotine products to teens in 2019, you may think you are in a time warp. What once got big tobacco companies in trouble is now beginning to haunt modern e-cigarette companies – advertising to minors.
While the major companies, including Juul, have denied trying to market directly to teens, the evidence seems overwhelming. Now, multiple lawsuits have been filed by states against Juul. California is one of those states.
What we know about their tactics
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the regulatory body in charge of overseeing e-cigarette makers. However, they have not approved any of the products (though they remain on the market). The only move they have made is to ban companies and retailers from selling e-cigarettes to minors.
Even so, the acting director of the FDA said that “JUUL has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth.”
In a warning letter to JUUL Labs recently, the FDA says that they were unhappy with how Juul engages in labeling and advertising, particularly with concern to tactics geared towards young people. The FDA even pointed out that Juul has given presentations in schools.
A study published online in JAMA Pediatrics found that approximately 45% of Juul’s Twitter followers we between the ages of 13 to 17, below the age of those allowed to buy the products. Only 19% of Juul users were over the age of 21.
A Juul spokesperson says that the company’s intended customers are adults and that “we do not intend to attract underage users.”
Part of the draw is the use of flavors. Juul and other e-cigarette companies use flavors like fruits, mint, cotton candy, and menthol. The CDC says that 81% of young e-cigarette users cited flavors as the main reason they use the products. Once they use them, the 5% nicotine concentration in Juul keeps them hooked.
What will happen with the lawsuits?
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said that Juul’s past marketing efforts online and in US cities are designed to attract young users. This includes brightly colored displays and youthful models in advertising.
“Juul ran big tobacco’s playbook and the results were predictable — millions of teens and young Americans now use their product,” Becerra said. “In California, we will not allow kids to be lured in by deceptive practices.”
The lawsuit filed by California against Juul also claims that:
- Juul failed to adequately verify users’ age and identities on their website.
- Shipped products to users who gave fake names (including “Beer Can”).
- Distributed free products at festivals and concerts that did not include mandatory warning labels.
This lawsuit, as well as others filed by New York and other government agencies, come at a time when the Trump administration is backing away from promises of a flavor ban. The White House, facing pressure from those who use e-cigarettes and from e-cigarette companies, has cited that they do not want people to lose their jobs.
It is clear that the battle against e-cigarette companies is just heating up. If past lawsuits against big tobacco companies are any indication, e-cigarette manufacturers could be in for some major financial headaches soon. Don’t hesitate to contact our e-cig lawsuit attorneys to learn more.