Juul Pitched Itself To Native Americans And High Schools, Investigators Find

The Congressional committee investigating Juul’s role in spurring a nationwide epidemic of youth vaping released the leading e-cigarette maker’s responses about its controversial outreach to high schools, tribal governments, and state politicians on Wednesday.

“In just eight months, the investigation has fundamentally altered
the e-cigarette landscape for the better,” says the 46-page memo from the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy led by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.

“I hope that this new information, coupled with rigorous oversight from multiple entities, will continue to move us closer to protecting another child from nicotine addiction,” said Krishnamoorthi, in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

In January, the Trump administration announced a new FDA policy effectively banning all flavored vape cartridges except for tobacco and menthol, which since 2016 had vaulted Juul to the top of the e-cigarette market nationwide. Juul had halted sales of such flavors on its own in November 2019, following exposure of marketing efforts aimed at underage vapers by the committee and FDA actions against its marketing. According to CDC survey results released last year, roughly 1 in 4 high school seniors reported monthly use of e-cigarettes.

The memo details Juul’s response to 60 questions from the committee, ranging from the source of the tobacco for its nicotine — 100% of it is grown in India — to the number of states where Juul lobbies for its products, which is 48, excluding Missouri and Vermont.

The answers reveal Juul had made more outreach efforts to tribal governments than was previously known, has not given up on selling flavors, and acknowledges its products aren’t meant to help people ever kick nicotine addiction, but rather to make the “switch” to a different device. “JUUL’s business strategy relies on keeping users addicted to nicotine,” said the memo.

From December 2018 to February 2019, Juul met with eight tribes, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Chickasaw Nation, to pitch a cigarette “switching” program to include “discounted product to enrollees during the 90-day program period and the collection of participant data,” according to Juul.

The program would involve Juul selling its $50 starter packs to the eight tribes for $5. The tribes would then provide the starter packs to patients enrolled in the switching programs for free. Juul admitted that it contacted an undisclosed additional number of tribes with similar pitches, but would not disclose how many. The effort was ended without any data collection.

“JUUL’s targeting of Native American Tribes was more pervasive than initially known,” investigators concluded, noting that Juul’s moves to hand out free products were a violation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

In addition to providing more detail on how Juul targeted its marketing efforts toward kids in high schools in the US, the investigation also states that Juul has admitted to continuing to market to kids outside the US.

Juul did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the memo.

Since 2018, Juul’s valuation has dropped from $38 billion to roughly $12 billion, as an FDA crackdown, investigations, lawsuits, flavor ban, and a nationwide outbreak of illicit vaping-related lung injuries loomed.

Read the full memo here.


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