Commentary

New York, California, AMA Attack Juul's Marketing As Trump Retreats

Joining California, New York yesterday became the second state this week to sue Juul for targeting young people with “deceptive and misleading marketing of its e-cigarettes.” The legal actions came as the American Medical Association, citing a spike in youth e-cigarette use, called for a ban on all e-cigarette and vaping products “that do not meet Food and Drug Administration approval as smoking cessation tools” and President Donald Trump backed away from an earlier call to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

“There can be no doubt that Juul’s aggressive advertising has significantly contributed to the public health crisis that has left youth in New York and across the country addicted to its products,” New York attorney general Letitia James states in the news release announcing the action. “By glamorizing vaping, while at the same time downplaying the nicotine found in vaping products, JUUL is putting countless New Yorkers at risk.”

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Juul took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook when it launched in 2015, according to the lawsuit filed in New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan. 

“Its ad campaigns featured young, attractive models, accompanied by the catchy phrase, ‘Vaporized,’ with corresponding social media hashtags, including #Vaporized, #JUUL, #LightsCameraVapor, and #JUULvapor…. In subsequent years, JUUL’s social media presence continued to focus heavily on attracting young audiences. A 2018 study found that approximately 45% of the individuals who were following the official @JUULvapor Twitter account in April 2018 were between the ages of 13 and 17, while only 20% of followers were 21 or over,” New York’s complaint maintains.

Recently, that Twitters account’s infrequent tweets are more defensive than enticing, such as a message from Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns addressing its “record on youth prevention and our commitment to curbing underage vaping.” 

The suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court in California on Monday “also alleges that the vaping company’s advertising campaign misled its customers by failing to warn them that e-cigarettes contain nicotine -- instead implying Juul is a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes,” Pilar Melendez writes  for the Daily Beast

“Los Angeles County district attorney Jackie Lacey said Monday that Juul’s decision to stop selling some flavored vaping products has come ‘too late,’ noting that many teens are already caught up in using e-cigarettes. State officials said the percentage of high school students who have vaped has increased from 11.7% in 2017 to 27.5% this year,” Patrick McGreevy writes  for the Los Angeles Times.

“In an email, a spokesman for Juul said the company is ‘focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,’” Erika Edwards writes for NBC News.

“The spokesman, Austin Finan, added the company had not yet reviewed [the New York] complaint. Juul pulled most of its flavored pods from the market, including mint, mango, fruit and creme. The company still sells menthol and tobacco flavors,” Edwards adds.

The AMA yesterday called for an immediate ban on e-cigs and vaping devices at a policy-making meeting in San Diego.

It “said a separate health issue also prompted its action -- the recent U.S. outbreak of lung illnesses linked to vaping. Most of those sickened said they vaped THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana, not nicotine. Officials believe a thickening agent used in black market THC vaping products may be a culprit. … About 2,100 people have gotten sick; 42 have died,” the AP’s Lindsey Tanner writes.

“The outbreak has ‘shined a light on the fact that we have very little evidence about the short- and long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes and vaping products,” Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA’s president, stated.

Meanwhile, fearing that he will upset his base, President Donald Trump has backed off from pushing a ban on flavored vape products.

“Everything seemed ready to go: President Trump’s ban on most flavored e-cigarettes had been cleared by federal regulators. Officials were poised to announce they would order candy, fruit and mint flavors off the market within 30 days -- a step the president had promised almost two months earlier to quell a youth vaping epidemic that had ensnared 5 million teenagers,” Josh Dawsey and Laurie McGinley write  for The Washington Post.

“One last thing was needed: Trump’s sign-off. But on Nov. 4, the night before a planned morning news conference, the president balked. Briefed on a flight to a Lexington, Ky., campaign rally, he refused to sign the one-page ‘decision memo,’ saying he didn’t want to move forward with a ban he had once backed, primarily at his wife’s and daughter’s urging, because he feared it would lead to job losses, said a Trump adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations,” Dawsey and McGinley add.

Who among us didn’t see that coming?

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