WASHINGTON — Last summer, amid growing public concern about teen vaping, Juul Labs paid a charter school organization in Baltimore $134,000 to set up a vaping camp. five-week summer to teach kids about healthy lifestyles.
The program was created by Juul – the maker of the vaping devices that caused the most concern among parents, health experts and government officials.
In April 2017, a representative from Juul visited the Dwight School in New York to meet with students – with no teachers present – and told them that the company’s e-cigarettes were “completely safe”.
Other schools across the country have been offered $10,000 from the e-cigarette company for the right to speak to students in classrooms or after school.
In Richmond, Calif., last year, Juul donated $90,000 to the Police Activities League to deliver the company’s “Moving Beyond” vaping education program to middle and high school students who were suspended for using. cigarettes.
These efforts were among many detailed by a House subcommittee on Thursday afternoon during the second day of hearings on the problem of youth vaping and Juul’s role in it – a topic which the Food and Drug Administration and two state attorneys general have been investigating for more than a year.
Juul “rolled out a sophisticated program to get into schools and get its messages straight to teens,” enlisted thousands of online influencers to market its vaping devices to targeted youth and children as young as 8 years old at a summer camp, according to a memo prepared by subcommittee staff. .
Testifying before the panel, James Monsees, one of Juul’s co-founders, pointed to the company’s decision last year to stop selling most of its flavored nicotine pods in stores and limit their availability to age-verified online sales.
“I can’t imagine a more reactive and proactive action we could take,” he said, adding that the company had lost about half of its business at the time.
Juul, which has an estimated valuation of $38 billion, stopped shipping the flavored pods to retailers at a time when the Food and Drug Administration threatened to pull its devices from the market if it didn’t make them inaccessible to young people.
On education-related programs, Representative Katie Hill, Democrat of California, criticized the company for its sponsorship of summer camp in Baltimore and a contract last year with LifeSkills, a Kentucky outfit supposed to offer a health program to more than 1,000 children. She accused Juul of funding such camps in exchange for data on test results, surveys and activity logs.
She asked Ashley Gould, the company’s chief administrative officer, about the programs and asked why Juul would need such data. “I’m not aware of that,” Ms Gould said, but also defended school grants and outreach.
“Everything we did in the educational space was to stop kids from using the product,” Ms Gould said.
In a tweet after the hearing, MP Hill noted the data sharing, and asked, “Do you think that’s screwed up?” Me too. And I can only imagine the possible uses of this data in the hands of big tobacco.
A Juul spokesperson said the company had only awarded six grants of unspecified amounts to schools and youth programs for health and vaping prevention activities, but added that it was no longer funding such programs.
Juul’s sleek vaping devices and flavored pods with high levels of nicotine have become hugely popular with teens since the company launched in 2015. Juul executives have repeatedly denied targeting young people and say their products are designed for adult smokers who want a safer alternative to combustible cigarettes.
The vapors inhaled by e-cigarettes do not contain the carcinogens created by the combustion of tobacco. But the nicotine they contain is highly addictive, and many public health officials fear their popularity among teenagers who have never smoked is creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.
The subcommittee based its findings on thousands of documents obtained from Juul and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating Juul, as is the North Carolina Attorney General.
The documents contain emails that show Juul executives struggling to cope with deteriorating public opinion and comparisons to Big Tobacco – even before Altria, the maker of Marlboros, bought a 35% stake in the company last December.
An email, dated April 17, 2018, was sent by Julie Henderson, director of Juul’s youth prevention and education program, to two consultants. He refers to a discussion she had with Ms. Gould about whether the company should attend a health fair at Hinsdale Central High School in Illinois.
“I just spoke with Ashley and she shares my concern about the optics of our participation in a student health fair, given our new understanding of the extent to which our efforts seem to duplicate those of Big Tobacco,” Ms Henderson wrote. “(Philip Morris attended fairs and carnivals where they distributed various branded items under the guise of ‘youth prevention’.)”
One of the big questions the FDA has tried to answer is whether Juul intentionally marketed its products to teenagers. Among the documents presented at the hearing was a detailed plan for the company to recruit famous “influencers” to publicize the devices during their first days on the market.
“We are targeting popular culture influencers with large audiences across various industries such as music, film, social media, pop media, etc.,” a company memo reads.
Other people testifying before the House panel on Wednesday said Juul’s efforts to limit young people’s access to its products were too little, too late. Of particular concern were its school vaping education programs.
Lawmakers argue that the activities Juul introduced in 2018 as prevention programs were actually aimed at familiarizing teens with its products.
It’s been nearly a year since the FDA began its crackdown on Juul. At that time, the agency seized documents from Juul’s offices.
After then-commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb threatened to pull Juul off the shelves if the company couldn’t keep the products away from young people, Juul responded by ending most of its campaigns on social networks. It also began restricting sales of certain fruit and dessert flavors to online sales that require age verification to ensure buyers are over 21.
Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the panel overseeing the hearing, expressed concern about parents’ difficulty in detecting e-cigarettes, compared to combustible products. He also took issue with Juul’s claim that it had removed youth-friendly flavors from stores.
“Although you say you pulled all flavors from stores, you left the mint flavor,” he said. “Mint is a flavor and it has taken the place of other flavors.”
Juul’s rebranding campaign relied on an army of lobbying to make its case across the country, as well as recruiting scientists to prove that “Juuling” is more of a public health benefit than a liability. . The company has until May 2020 to prove to the FDA that its products do more good than harm.
Dr. Norman E. (Ned) Sharpless, the agency’s acting commissioner, has pledged to continue Dr. Gottlieb’s crackdown on youth vaping. But it’s unclear whether Dr. Sharpless has the power to pursue a regulatory push that enjoys, at best, lukewarm support in the White House.
Juul has spent $940,000 on lobbying so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. The e-cigarette company has yet to announce its 2019 campaign contributions, but in March Kevin Burns, Juul’s chief executive, donated $125,000 to a Republican fundraising committee called “Take Back the House”.