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Amid rising concerns about the risk of teen vaping addiction and health problems linked to e-cigarettes, several U.S. Senators are demanding that JUUL take immediate action to curb the use of their products among minors.
In a letter (PDF) sent to JUUL Labs, Inc. CEO Kevin Burns on April 8, a group of 11 senators demanded that the company explain marketing tactics that appear to target children and how the company is going to prevent use of its electronic cigarette products by minors. The letter was signed by Senators Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Jack Reed, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Udall, Edward J. Markey, Jeffrey A. Merkley and Chris Van Hollen; all Democrats.
The senators express concern regarding the recent merger between JUUL and Altria, noting that Altria is known for having targeted children with tobacco marketing in the past. They also express concern about the high level of secrecy around JUUL’s business practices, and are asking for documents revealing those practices to ensure the company is not specifically marketing toward children.
“JUUL’s decision to team up with Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is also bad news for children considering that Altria has a long and sordid history of spending billions to entice children to smoke through targeted campaigns that intentionally lied about the science and health effects from cigarettes,” the letter states. “And their efforts have clearly paid off.”
According to the CDC, Altria’s Marlboro cigarette continues to be the most popular cigarette brand among children in the United States, with 48.8 percent of high school smokers preferring Marlboro cigarettes.
That trend appears to have passed on to Juul products even before the merger.
A recent study indicated that e-cigarette advertising reaches 80% of middle and high school students in the U.S. Furthermore, vaping during adolescence quadruples a teen’s risk of becoming a cigarette tobacco smoker later.
JUUL vape pens have quickly grown to dominate the electronic cigarette market. In addition to the sale of candy-like flavors, the devices are designed to look like USB thumb drives, allowing teens to hide their vaping habit from parents, teachers and other adults.
The letter notes that JUUL products have been largely identified as being responsible for e-cigarette use among teens. It asks what steps JUUL has taken to ensure their products are not marketed toward underage users and that their advertisements are not seen by minors, and demands the company turn over documents regarding those issues.
The letter also seeks a list of “social media influencers” paid to promote its products, and whether it has reported those activities to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as required. It also calls for in-depth documents regarding its communications and responses to the FDA, which, under outgoing Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, has repeatedly threatened to ban all e-cigarettes if teen use does not decline.
In February, the American Lung Association gave the FDA a failing grade for not doing enough to prevent teens from using and buying e-cigarettes. Vaping is now the most popular form of tobacco youth among U.S. teens, with rates of teen use jumping by 78% from 2017 to 2018 alone.
In 2011, when the FDA first said it would regulate e-cigarettes, only 1.5 percent of teens vaped, but now more than one-third of teens use e-cigarettes.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics also called on the federal government to implement more stringent vaping laws across the country, and not wait another year to act.
In recent years, a number of JUUL vaping addiction lawsuits have been filed by families of teens who suffered health problems, including heart attacks, pneumonia and other conditions.