We’re bombarded with advertisements all the time — whether it be television commercials or suggested ads on social media, it is unavoidable.
But Juul Labs Inc., an electronic cigarette brand, has been expanding its advertisements to one of our most vulnerable and easily influenced populations — children.
On Feb. 25, 39 state attorneys, including Pennsylvania State Attorney Josh Shapiro, launched an investigation into Juul’s advertising toward youth populations, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The investigation will evaluate the company’s alleged targeting of children, its assertions with respect to nicotine content and risks, and the safety and efficacy of it as a smoking cessation device, the Huffington Post reported.
Juul is accused of advertising on popular children’s websites, like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Seventeen magazine, Reuters reported. In addition to this investigation, the company has faced several lawsuits in the past claiming it internationally advertises to teens.
While Juul is not the only e-cigarette company young adults use, it amasses 70 percent of the e-cigarette market, with its social media use — especially apps like Twitter, which are popular among children and young adults — contributing largely to its success, Business Insider reported.
Nine states have temporarily banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, according to Tobacco Free Kids, but e-cigarette use is on the rise. These tobacco products pose similar health risks, and Juul’s marketing to children and teens has dangerous implications.
This lawsuit is finally holding e-cigarette companies accountable for their actions, wrote Ryan Coffman, tobacco policy and control program manager for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, in an email to The Temple News.
“Evidence is mounting that Juul was aware of the early youth uptake of Juul that normalized and popularized vaping for scores of young people soon after Juul’s launch,” Coffman wrote. “At this time, Juul purposefully chose to prioritize amassing profits over protecting youth from deceptive marketing and extremely high nicotine content of their products.”
Juul’s targeting of children is a popular marketing strategy with the intent of producing lifelong customers, said Jamie Magee, the director of tobacco prevention and control services at the Health Promotion Council.
“Youth tobacco use gets people hooked at a young age before they can make good decisions for themselves,” Magee said. “Tobacco companies hope they can get lifelong smokers and make a lot of money off of them for the rest of their lives.”
Seventy-three percent of adolescents aged 13-17 reported being exposed to e-cigarette advertisements recently, according to a 2019 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
In response to this lawsuit, Juul spokesman Austin Finan said the corporation would make an effort to curtail underage tobacco use and discourage adults from using combustible cigarettes, the Inquirer reported.
But rather than combating underage smoking, Juul is adding fuel to the fire by advertising to children and young adults.
Rates of frequent e-cigarette use among young adults increased from 2.4 percent in 2012-13 to 7.6 percent in 2018, according to the Truth Initiative, a leading public health nonprofit focused on curtailing tobacco use. About 5.4 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fifty-nine percent of high school students that reported vaping nicotine said their preferred e-cigarette was Juul, NPR reported in November 2019, and increases in youth e-cigarette use paralleled increases in Juul sales since 2017, according to the CDC.
Using nicotine products like Juuls before the age of 25 can harm the developing brain, affecting attention, mood, learning and impulse control, according to the CDC.
“E-cigarettes are not safe and can cause irreversible lung damage and disease,” wrote Lance Boucher, senior division director of the American Lung Association, in an email to The Temple News. “No one should use these or any other tobacco products.”
Nevertheless, Juul and other electronic cigarette companies continued to gear their content to minors, especially through flavored pods that are appealing to children, like fruit and creme.
Before the Food and Drug Administration banned flavored e-cigarettes in January, Juul’s mint-flavored pods were the most popular flavor of e-cigarettes for high school students, CNBC reported in November 2019.
“Juul took a page from their old playbooks but modernized their messages to today’s youth by using event based marketing, giving away free samples, glamorizing products [and] using young models and social media influencers who appeal to younger audiences,” Magee said.
We cannot allow our children to be exposed to tobacco advertising at such a young age. It’s dangerous, irresponsible and ultimately unethical.