Accused of relentlessly marketing to underaged people, Juul Labs — a company that manufactures electronic cigarettes — is expected to pay the state of Oregon more than $20 million in a settlement.
This comes after a two-year investigation into the company’s marketing practices led by the Oregon Department of Justice alongside Texas and Connecticut. The lawsuit states the company attracted young customers with launch parties, advertisements, social media posts and free samples.
In addition to Oregon, Juul has to pay at least $438 million dollars to 33 other states and territories.
Kris Davis is the dean of students at Redmond High School. He said last year the school recorded 54 vape-smoking offenses. Davis said despite efforts to monitor students on campus, it’s difficult to know the true number of students who use e-cigarettes.
“They have these different types of flavors now, so it’s easy to hide and the vapors don’t stay in the air very long,” Davis said.
E-cigarette use in teens has been on the rise for several years, according to data from the Oregon Student Health Survey looking at usage in 11th graders in the state. Oregon Health Authority Deputy Health Officer and Epidemiologist Dr. Tom Jeanne said that as conventional cigarette use dropped, e-cigarette use surged.
“We have basically seen about six years of steadily increasing e-cigarette use among Oregon youth in 2019,” Jeanne said.
The state’s investigation found that Juul was using marketing tactics that attract underage people to the product.
“Their practices included things like paying social media influencers to promote their products, having young people in their advertising, placing ads in locations where there might be a lot of youth seeing them,” Jeanne said.
Jeanne said one of the biggest issues is the flavoring of vapes, which can conceal some of the harshness of vaping.
“Brightly colored packages, cute names, candy flavors, all these things we know are attractive to young people,” he said.
The investigation further revealed that Juul’s original packaging was misleading and did not clearly disclose that it contained nicotine, and implied that it contained a lower concentration of nicotine than it did.
“There are many health concerns,” Jeanne said. “There are toxic chemicals in the emissions, including formaldehyde and acetone. There are toxic metals; there are known carcinogens that cause cancer.”
But vaping trends took a turn in the early pandemic, when school was disrupted for students. E-cigarette use among teens decreased in the state by nearly half for 11th graders in Oregon.
“We’ll have to see what the trends do now that students are kind of getting back to school in a more regular fashion,” Jeanne said.
Davis also noticed a drop in usage among students. He believes it’s both due to the pandemic disruption and more information about the dangers of vaping coming to light.
“I think when it first came out, it was more of a curiosity thing, and now more kids are starting to understand the effects of vaping and are making better decisions,” Davis said.
Still, Jeanne and Davis said there is more work to be done to eliminate vaping among teens. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum last year successfully championed a bill to close an important loophole that allowed underage Oregonians to purchase vaping products over the internet.
Davis said he has been made aware of some stores that were selling vapes to underaged people, but he said the most common way kids are getting their hands on vapes is shocking.
“Parents are now choosing e-cigarettes as their choice of tobacco product, so they’re getting it from their parents, whether they steal it or if it’s given to them,” Davis said.
Davis said disciplining vaping behavior is especially challenging because nicotine is so addictive. Last spring, Redmond School District adopted a program called Upshift, a counseling program focused on tobacco, alcohol and drug addiction.
“It’s identifying kids that need the support when they get caught, or if they self-report saying that they need support to get off of these nicotine problems that they’re having,” Davis said.
Juul has to pay at least $438 million dollars in total to 34 states and territories.
Rosenblum this month released a statement about the settlement.
“Hopefully, this settlement will provide states with needed resources to help young people stop using e-cigarettes and will prevent future generations from being targeted with slick marketing tactics like those used to attract youth to JUUL’s products,” Rosenblum added.
In addition to the financial terms, the settlement limits Juul’s marketing and sales practices that are misleading or seem to attract underaged customers.