US Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is the latest lawmaker to announce an investigation into leading e-cigarette company Juul Labs, probing the impact of its marketing and business dealings on the “youth e-cigarette epidemic.”
The Illinois Democrat, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, asked the company to “provide memoranda and communications regarding its social media practices, advertising, and the product’s long-term impact on consumer health,” this week’s announcement said.
“The safety and well-being of America’s youth is not for sale,” Krishnamoorthi said in a letter to Juul CEO Kevin Burns dated June 7. “I am extremely concerned about reports that Juul’s high nicotine content is fueling addiction and that frequent Juul use is sending kids across the country into rehab, some as young as 15.”
In the letter, the congressman also requested any company information that might reveal its early awareness of its products’ popularity among youth, potential health risks associated with the products and why Juul decided to market products at 5% nicotine, which critics consider to be high.
In an e-mail Thursday to CNN, a representative for Juul said the company looks forward to “a productive dialogue” and shares the House subcommittee’s concerns about vaping among youth.
The company has said it has taken steps to prevent underage use, such as halting most retail sales of flavored products and shutting down some of its social media accounts.
Juul has maintained its products are intended to convert adult smokers to what it described in the past as a less-harmful alternative. In other communications, the company says it cannot make claims its products are safer, in line with US Food and Drug Administration regulations. Juul’s statement Thursday says the company intends to “combat youth usage and help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes, which remain the leading cause of preventable death around the world.”
Previous research suggested that Juul’s 5% nicotine pods – which deliver the same amount of nicotine to the body as a pack of cigarettes – spurred a rush of companies seeking to boost their nicotine concentrations to mirror Juul’s success.
“That may be a benefit to addicted adult smokers, but it also makes it potently addictive to nicotine-naive teenagers,” Dr. Robert Jackler, founder of Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, previously told CNN.
Krishnamoorthi also requested information on “every celebrity, influencer, and marketing agency” the company may have approached to promote its products. A CNN investigation in December shed light on Juul’s influencer program and identified several social media users who participated. At the time, a representative for Juul said that the company had abandoned that program, describing it as small and short-lived.
Krishnamoorthi, who gave Juul until June 21 to respond, adds to a growing list of investigations into the company’s business and marketing practices.
In April, 11 senators launched a similar probe demanding answers from Juul, alleging its business practices have been shrouded in “immense secrecy.” In May, North Carolina became the first state to file a lawsuit against Juul, claiming the company marketed its products to children and misled the public about the risks. Last summer, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced a similar investigation, expressing concerns that the company targeted minors.
The US Food and Drug Administration has been conducting an investigation into Juul and other e-cigarette companies in an effort to uncover whether they are marketing products illegally and outside the agency’s compliance policy.
In previous statements, Juul has said it intends to cooperate with officials in other investigations.
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The FDA revealed in November that vaping had increased nearly 80% among high schoolers and 50% among middle schoolers since a year earlier. Public health experts have said that Juul has largely propelled the rise, holding about 75% of the e-cigarette market in the United States. Experts worry that e-cigarettes could put kids’ developing brains at risk, get them hooked on nicotine early in life and be a gateway to smoking and other drugs.