Juul’s Fake Apology: Company Refuses to Take Responsibility for Creating Youth E-Cigarette Epidemic

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 15, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a documentary airing tonight on CNBC, Juul’s CEO states that he would say “I’m sorry” to parents whose children use the company’s e-cigarettes, but then adds, “I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them.”

Once again, Juul is following the tobacco industry’s playbook: Proclaim loudly that they don’t want kids to use their product, while never admitting that their marketing targeted and attracted kids. Like its partner Altria, Juul still refuses to admit that the company’s marketing targeted kids or has played a major role in youth use of its e-cigarettes – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

This is a deceptive, self-serving gesture by Juul given their complete refusal to take responsibility for creating the youth e-cigarette epidemic. It is a blatant attempt to deflect attention from the company’s wrongdoing while it opposes meaningful government regulation to prevent it from continuing to addict kids. There can be no doubt about Juul’s role in the current youth epidemic: It marketed a sleek, cool, high-tech product that comes in sweet flavors that appeal to kids, delivers a massive dose of nicotine that can quickly hook kids and was launched with social media marketing that a Stanford study found was patently youth-oriented.

This is one more example that Juul is more interested in repairing its image and expanding its sales than preventing youth use. Juul is following the tobacco industry’s playbook to the letter: Addict kids, deny responsibility for doing so, run slick PR campaigns to fool policy makers and the public, and fight real solutions to the problem.

Here are the facts about Juul:

  • Juul is the primary cause of the youth e-cigarette epidemic that saw e-cigarette use skyrocket by 78% among high school students in 2018, to 20.8% of students, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Educators and students report an alarming level of Juul use in middle and high schools across the country. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has stated, “There’s no question the Juul product drove a lot of the youth use.”
  • Juul is sold in flavors that appeal to youth, including mint, menthol, fruit, crème, mango and cucumber. Research shows that flavors play a key role in youth use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Over 80% of kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product, and 97% of current youth e-cigarette users have used a flavored e-cigarette in the past month.
  • Juul delivers massive doses of nicotine, putting youth users at greater risk of addiction. Juul has stated that each Juul “pod” (cartridge of nicotine) delivers as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes. However, research by Truth Initiative has found that many young Juul users don’t know the product always contains nicotine.
  • Juul’s popularity was fueled by the company’s social media marketing that featured attractive young people in fun, trendy settings. A report by Stanford University researchers concluded that Juul’s launch marketing was “patently youth oriented.” While Juul’s co-founder told CNBC that the company’s launch marketing “had no impact on sales,” The New York Times has reported that Juul was aware the launch campaign could appeal to teens and knew from social media posts that teens were using the product shortly after it went on sale in 2015. The Times also reported that the marketing company that created the launch campaign claimed it “created ridiculous enthusiasm” for the campaign hashtag.
  • While running ads claiming it is helping to solve the problem, Juul has spent huge sums to build an army of lobbyists and fight effective policies to reduce youth use. The New York TimesPolitico and other media have reported on these efforts. Juul is currently spearheading a ballot initiative that would overturn San Francisco’s prohibition on flavored e-cigarettes.
  • Despite claiming for years that “Juul Labs is not Big Tobacco,” Juul in December 2018 sold a 35% stake in the company to Marlboro-maker Altria for $12.8 billion. The deal brought together the companies that sell the most popular e-cigarette and cigarette brands among kids in Juul and Marlboro.