Multiple states have filed lawsuits against Juul, with the latest being Pennsylvania on Feb. 10 and Massachusetts following suit two days later.
California, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Arizona attorneys general had already sued Juul. And by Feb. 25, 39 state attorneys general were investigating Juul’s marketing practices and its misleading claims about amounts of nicotine and the safety of its e-cigarettes.
As more states sue, Juul and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) have until May 12 to submit a pre-market application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In order to remain on the market, all ENDS products will undergo a public health review assessing if e-cigarettes benefit smokers more than they harm teenagers.
Pennsylvania’s lawsuit accuses Juul of violating Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law by depicting e-cigarettes as safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes. The company claimed its products delivered less nicotine than they actually do — all without required FDA approval. The lawsuit seeks “unspecified damages” to help people addicted to nicotine, in addition to paying for ways to combat the “public health crisis.”
Massachusetts’ lawsuit accused Juul of using online ads on websites that were “highly attractive to children, adolescents in middle school and high school and underage college students, including educational websites,” like socialstudiesforkids.com. The state sued another e-cigarette retailer, Eonsmoke LLC, in May 2020, for advertising to young people on social media and not verifying the age of online buyers, as Law360 reported.
Juul Labs Inc. introduced its e-cigarettes in 2015, advertising them on websites for Nickelodeon, Seventeen magazine and Cartoon Network. Their product dominates the nation’s vapor market and has gained a “cult level of popularity” among teens, according to a Stanford study.
Independent YouTube videos titled “How to Set Your Juul to PARTY MODE” depict Juul as a cultural symbol. Young girls — one with braces — are shown partying and vaping. Another video, titled “Where’s My Juul??,” features a girl in pigtails. It has garnered more than one million views.
Juul’s launch campaign showcased models in their 20s in trendy clothes “engaged in poses and movements more evocative of underage teens than mature adults,” Stanford reported. Stanford concluded that Juul’s first six months of ads were “patently youth-oriented,” and though they became “more muted,” the ads remained on social media channels popular with young people.
Juul executives have repeatedly stated that the company never intentionally targeted teenagers. They claim their sleek e-cigarettes exist to help adults quit smoking, according to USA Today.
In June 2018, Juul announced it wouldn’t use models on social media and would instead feature former smokers switching to Juul. In November 2019, Juul announced its plans to limit flavored refill pods sales and improve its online age-verification system to meet some FDA regulations.
According to Reuters, Juul claimed it regretted its advertising style and has tried to revamp its image to meet the FDA’s regulatory deadline.
By Kimberly Nicoletti
Kimberly Nicoletti is a freelance journalist, editor and writing coach based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She has been published in Natural Health magazine, Fitness Republic, SheKnows.com, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dallas AM News, Minnesota Magazine, The Denver Post and a variety of regional magazines including Aspen Philanthropist, Aspen Times Weekly, Vail Valley, Vail Health, Mountain Gazette, CO Yoga + Life and Spoke + Blossom. She has been the managing editor of several magazines, most currently in Snowmass, CO. She has a masters in somatic psychology and loves writing about health, people, travel and anything related to living a creative, authentic life.