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Facing growing allegations that children were specifically targeted with advertisements for its addictive e-cigarettes, JUUL Labs has announced that it will suspend all broadcast, print and digital marketing in the United States.
The manufacturer announced its plans in a press release issued on September 25, which also indicates that CEO Kevin Burns is stepping down, and will be replaced by a former tobacco executive from Altria.
The move comes amid an ongoing criminal probe into prior advertising, the threat of a pending ban on all flavored e-cigarette products, a growing number of JUUL addiction lawsuits and rising concerns that side effects of vaping may cause severe respiratory illnesses.
According to the press release, JUUL Labs is “suspending all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the U.S.” The company has also vowed not to fight recently announced plans by federal regulators to ban all flavored e-cigarettes nationwide.
The announcement came on the same day FDA Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless testified before Congress on the growing concerns over vaping, and use of JUUL e-cigarettes specifically.
In the testimony, Sharpless indicated the agency is moving aggressively to remove any product which appears to appeal to children from the market. JUUL products are the primary choice of underage vapers.
“Most recently, we issued a warning letter to JUUL Labs Inc. for marketing unauthorized modified risk tobacco products, including in a presentation to children given at a school,” Sharpless testified. “Despite these significant efforts, the 2019 NYTS preliminary data, as well as another study supported by NIDA, demonstrate a continued rise in the disturbing rates of youth e-cigarette use, especially through the use of non-tobacco flavors.”
Teen Use, Illnesses Leading To More Bans
According to preliminary findings of the recent federal survey, more than a quarter of all high school students have vaped this year. In response to the epidemic-levels of use among the nation’s youth, a number of state and federal officials have also announced new plans to ban certain flavored vaping products.
Bans have been announced in Michigan, New York and California, and federal regulators say a national flavored e-cigarette ban is in the works.
In addition, this week Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency and put in place a four-month ban on vaping products state-wide. Unlike the proposed bans in other states, this affects all vaping products and devices, though it is allegedly only temporary.
The bans come as state and federal health experts struggle to understand an outbreak of vaping respiratory illnesses which have affected more than 500 people in 38 states, and have resulted in at least nine deaths. Governor Baker said 61 vaping-related illnesses have occurred in Massachusetts, but the CDC has only confirmed three cases and indicates it is looking at two additional likely cases of what has become known as vaping pulmonary disease.
Altria Exec To Become New JUUL CEO
In addition to all the other concerns surrounding JUUL, the change in leadership is likely to raise additional warning flags. When Altria first bought 35% of JUUL last year, many, including some lawmakers, raised concerns about the tobacco company’s past actions to marketing cigarettes toward children, and how that behavior may affect JUUL.
A number of Senators raised those concerns in a letter to outgoing CEO Burns in April, calling on JUUL to take immediate action to curb teen vaping. However, when Altria made the investment, it issued a press release in which claimed it would allow JUUL Labs to keep its independence.
“JUUL will remain fully independent and will have access to Altria’s best-in-class infrastructure and services,” Altria’s statement claimed.
The new incoming CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, was Altria’s Chief Growth Officer, in charge of its efforts to find alternative products to traditional cigarettes. He has been an “observer” on JUUL’s board of directors since Altria’s investment in the company.
The move appears to complete the takeover of JUUL by Altria, and seems to confirm a number of fears by lawmakers and others that Altria’s investment would mutate into a takeover of the leading e-cigarette company, ending the vaping industry’s alleged and often touted independence from the traditional tobacco industry.
In recent years, critics say JUUL has followed the marketing strategy employed by the tobacco industry decades ago, which has resulted in a new generation of teens addicted to JUULing.