It Sure Does Look Like Juul was Actively Marketing to Teenagers
From disregarding early evidence that teenagers were getting hooked, to promoting their products right in the classroom, Juul Labs is blowing smoke by denying that it marketed to underage customers.
Now that the spotlight is on the popular Juul e-cigarette thanks to congressional inquiries and numerous lawsuits, new details about the company’s marketing practices are being uncovered. Despite claims that Juul is only intended as an alternative to traditional cigarettes for existing adult smokers, news outlets have been reporting on several questionable and disturbing decisions made by executives within the company. These decisions include shelving a feature that could have limited nicotine intake, disregarding early data showing teens were flocking to the device, and an “educational” program where Juul representatives allegedly told a group of ninth grade students that Juul was “totally safe.”
Reuters reported recently that Juul Labs, became aware of its product’s popularity with teenagers shortly after the device hit the market in 2015. A former manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity, discussed an early internal debate that occurred after employees reported fielding calls from teens asking for information on where they could buy more nicotine pods for the device. According to the unnamed manager, some employees were passionate that the company should take immediate action to curb youth sales while others argued that they couldn’t be blamed for youth sales.
“Clearly, people internally had an issue with it,” the manager said, referring to sales of Juuls to teenagers. “But a lot of people had no problem with 500 percent year-over-year growth.”
Another issue executives apparently had an issue with was limiting the amount of nicotine Juul users could ingest. Juul developed their nicotine pods to deliver a potently high dose of nicotine with every puff. Some staff within the company became concerned that customers may absorb too much nicotine at once, which could potentially lead to sickness and a faster addiction to the drug.
“You hope that they get what they want, and they stop,” said Chenyue Xing, a former scientist who helped Juul Labs develop its liquid nicotine formulation. “We didn’t want to introduce a new product with a stronger addictive power.”
The company’s engineers devised safety features that could alert users or disable the device for a short period after users exceeded a certain threshold. In 2014, Juul Labs applied for a patent describing these features, but ultimately never implemented them in the final retail product.
Perhaps the most insidious example of Juul marketing their product to teens occurred in 2018, during the company’s short-lived and ironically named “Education and Youth Prevention Program.”
CNN reported that this program included a presentation where a Juul representative visited classrooms as a part of a “mental health and addiction seminar” to talk to students about the dangers of nicotine addiction.
During this discussion, teachers were allegedly asked to leave the room while the rep spoke with students. During a House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy hearing, 17-year-old Caleb Mintz testified about one such presentation to his ninth grade class.
According to Mintz, the representative disclosed his affiliation with Juul, and repeatedly told the teens that Juul e-cigarettes were “totally safe” while showing off the device.
“I believe the presenter was sending mixed messages by saying Juul was ‘totally safe’ and following up every totally safe statement with ‘but we don’t want you as customers,’ ” said Mintz. “I believe that the presenter was playing on the rebellious side of teens,” he added, “where when teens are told not to do something, they are more likely to do it.”
At one point during the presentation Caleb asked the Juul rep what he should do if a friend was addicted to nicotine, not specifying if the friend was addicted to e-cigarettes or traditional tobacco cigarettes. The representative responded by saying “he should mention Juul to his friend.”