After Preying On Black Community, Juul Now Under Investigation By FTC

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Juul FTC
Photo by Simon Zhu on Unsplash

Juul, the Silicon Valley-based maker of enormously popular vape products, has been blamed for a teen vaping epidemic that has been called an addiction crisis.

The e-cigarette maker is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether it used deceptive marketing or targeted minors using influencers, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The FTC investigation began almost a year ago before Marlboro maker Altria Group acquired a 35-percent stake in Juul for $12.8 billion, WSJ reported. The FTC is considering monetary damages. Altria shares were down 4 percent at 2:20 p.m. in New York.

Juul has said it targeted adult smokers — never teens. Regulators scrutinized the company’s early ad campaigns that used young models and bright colors. Critics say the images positioned Juul as a lifestyle brand and attracted young people.

The Food and Drug Administration also launched a 2018 investigation into the company’s marketing practices, seizing thousands of pages of documents in a surprise inspection of Juul’s San Francisco headquarters, CNBC reported.

Health authorities have also been investigating whether e-cigarettes can cause seizures, Bloomberg reported Thursday. Three people reported that they had used Juul devices and suffered seizures, Bloomberg learned from FDA communications obtained through a public-records request.

The FDA hasn’t previously identified any one manufacturer’s device as being tied to the seizures. Bloomberg said its report is the first confirmation that people specifically said they had used a Juul device. The FDA could not confirm that two of the three reports were in fact linked to Juul.

Juul has seen sales skyrocket 800 percent in the past year. The company was valued at around $15 billion, Bloomberg reported in June 2018. Juul has made a variety of flavors and a vape product that looks about as compact as a flash drive. Teens love it, and the company has been accused of marketing to them.

Juul Vaping has been courting the Black community.

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“Vaping advocates have long touted the products as a way to get minority populations who are disproportionately hooked on nicotine to abandon cigarettes,” Daily Beast reported. “But Juul’s recent push to the African-American community in particular has been more overt, with company representatives even invoking a flashpoint moment in recent race relations to warn of the criminalization of nicotine products.”

Black activists earlier this year slammed HBCU Meharry Medical College for its decision to take a $7.5 million grant from Juul. 

The college said it planned to use the grant from Juul — the second-largest in its 143-year history — to start a research center for health outcomes in the Black community, including the health impact of tobacco products like Juul’s, News Channel 5 Nashville reported.

But the Black medical community and anti-tobacco activists said the school should turn down the grant due to the deadly effect tobacco use has on African Americans, who have a higher death rate from tobacco-related illnesses than other racial and ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Juul doesn’t have African Americans’ best interests in mind,” said LaTroya Hester, spokeswoman for the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, in a New York Times interview. “The truth is that Juul is a tobacco product, not much unlike its demon predecessors.”

Lobbyist Chaka Burgess, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee, was hired by Juul Labs in November 2018 to handle legislative and FDA regulatory efforts regarding e-cigarettes and vaping products.

Juul Labs has more than 70 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market and has been the main target over the public backlash against teenage vaping, O’Dwyer’s reported.

Juul Vaping also recently hired Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP, to lobby Washington, D.C. on its behalf.

The FTC has more investigative power than the FDA. It can issue subpoenas and has a history of scrutinizing marketing practices of big tobacco, WSJ reported. In 1997, the FTC commission got R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to stop running its Joe Camel ad, saying it was too appealing to children.