A House subcommittee accused Juul Labs, the popular e-cigarette company, of waging a “sophisticated” effort to target teenagers and children at schools and summer camps in its bid to become the largest seller of vaping devices in the country.
Lawmakers laid out the claims during a hearing on vaping devices Thursday, citing about 55,000 documents obtained from Juul detailing the company’s efforts to target young people. According to a memo released by Democrats on the subcommittee, Juul at times paid schools at least $10,000 to gain access to students. In one instance, Juul also paid $134,000 to set up a five-week summer camp for children through a charter school, providing what’s referred to as a “holistic health education program.” The camp included kids in grades 3 to 12.
In their memo, lawmakers said Juul’s methods appeared to mimic those used by Big Tobacco when cigarette companies hawked traditional products.
“In deploying this out-of-school program, JUUL was aware that its programs were ‘eerily similar’ to those used by large cigarette makers, and even internal executives raised concerns about their work in schools,” the document says.
The hearings were organized by the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.
James Monsees, Juul’s co-founder and chief product officer, defended the company’s actions, pointing to its own decision to end sales of flavored vaping pods in retail stores around the nation. The move came amid pressure from the Food and Drug Administration, which threatened to pull Juul products from shelves last September if e-cigarette companies didn’t take quick measures to keep them out of teens’ hands.
“I can’t imagine a more responsive and proactive action we could take,” Monsees told the panel, according to The New York Times. He told lawmakers the decision cost Juul about half of its business when it went into effect.
“We never wanted any non-nicotine user, and certainly nobody underage, to ever use Juul products,” Monsees said during the hearing. “Our company has no higher priority than fighting underage use.”
The company continues to sell flavored pods on its website, but it uses an age verification system in an effort to limit sales to consumers 21 or older.
Ashley Gould, Juul’s chief administration officer, told lawmakers during the hearing that the programs cited in the memo were meant to be “helpful to stop kids using Juul” but said the company ended the programs in September after getting “feedback about them.”
“We take the criticism that that was not well received,” Gould said, according to The Washington Post.
Scott Gottlieb, warned in September, when he was FDA commissioner, that the use of vaping devices was one of the country’s biggest health challenges and that it showed no sign of slowing down without regulatory intervention.
“Unfortunately, I now have good reason to believe that it’s reached nothing short of an epidemic proportion of growth,” Gottlieb said in a statement. “I use the word epidemic with great care. E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous ― and dangerous ― trend among teens. The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction, must end. It’s simply not tolerable.”