Federal prosecutors in California have launched a criminal investigation into popular e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California is conducting the probe, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The focus of the investigation was not immediately apparent.
Representatives from the U.S. attorney’s office and Juul, both of which are based in San Francisco, did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
News of the probe comes amid increasing government scrutiny of Juul and other e-cigarette manufacturers as teenagers’ use of their addictive products soars in the U.S.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit against Juul in May, accusing the company of knowingly marketing its products to minors and downplaying the health risks associated with vaping.
A congressional subcommittee in July accused Juul of waging a “sophisticated” campaign to target teenagers and children at schools and summer camps with its marketing and sales efforts.
“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,” stated a memo released by Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.
The Federal Trade Commission is also investigating Juul’s marketing practices, while the Food and Drug Administration last week announced that its criminal investigations unit was looking into the rise of vaping-related lung illnesses. President Donald Trump said earlier this month that he had asked the FDA to consider taking flavored e-cigarette products off the market.
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the U.S. A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that more than 2 million high school and middle school students vaped.
And although e-cigarettes contain fewer toxic chemicals than traditional tobacco products, they often include more nicotine, the addictive drug found in regular cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.
Vaping has been linked to at least nine deaths and roughly 530 cases of illness. Common symptoms that patients have experienced include breathing issues, dry cough or chest pain, and in some cases, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. The majority of those sickened have been male and between the ages of 18 and 34, according to the CDC. Roughly 16% have been younger than 18.
The CDC announced earlier this month that it was investigating the matter.
Juul suspended sales of most of its flavored e-cigarette pods in retail stores last year, prompting the FDA to back down on a proposed ban on fruit- and candy-flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations. This June, San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted to effectively ban the sale of e-cigarettes starting next year.
Kevin Burns, Juul’s CEO, apologized to parents of young e-cigarette users in a CNBC documentary, “Vaporized: America’s E-Cigarette Addiction,” that aired in July.
“I’m sorry that their child is using the product. It’s not intended for them,” Burns said. “As a parent to a 16-year-old, I’m sorry for them and have empathy for them and the challenges that they’re going through.”