California Is Suing Juul For Allegedly Targeting Kids With Its Bad Marketing

Image: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo

Juul is staring down yet another lawsuit.

California officials announced Monday that the state has a lawsuit filed alleging that Juul marketed its products to teens and youth. It did this through, among other things, its social media campaigns, ads and marketing, influencers who promoted its products, language that caught on with younger demographics like “Juuling,” and launching fruity flavours that appealed to kids, according to the complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court. Further, it alleges that the company marketed to kids who the company knew were underage because they had failed age verification systems. JUUL Labs, Inc., is identified in the complaint as “JLI”:

On information and belief, JLI violated the privacy rights of California minors by directly marketing and advertising JUUL tobacco products to children that it knew were minors because those individuals had failed JLI’s own age verification. Despite JLI’s knowledge that specific individuals had failed age verification, JLI used information specific to these minors, such as personal email addresses, to directly market and advertise JUUL tobacco products to minors via email. Despite knowing that young people who had not passed age verification were receiving JLI marketing and advertising materials, JLI did not correct this issue.

In addition to direct marketing to young people that the company allegedly knew were not of legal age, Juul also omitted important heath and product information about its e-cigarettes in marketing emails. According to the complaint, early marketing emails did not include any information about nicotine content or the fact that it’s addictive. Moreover, one email sent in 2016 is cited as telling recipients that “…just holding it makes you feel awesome. And then you take a drag of one of the JUUL’s flavours—“miint,” “bruule,” “tabaac,” or “fruut”—and you feel even better.”

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In a statement by email, Juul spokesman Austin Finan told Gizmodo that the company has “not yet reviewed the complaint” but said that that Juul remains “focused on resetting the vapour category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”

“As part of that process, we recently stopped accepting orders for our Mint JUULpods in the U.S., suspended all broadcast, print, and digital product advertising in the U.S. and are investing in scientific research to ensure the quality of our FDA Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) application and expanding our commitment to develop new technology to reduce youth use,” Finan said. “Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users.“

Juul—which has been roundly slammed by federal officials for its use among teens—has slowly taken measures to undo part of the epidemic of teen smoking that its products helped facilitate. It’s pulled its fruity flavours for sale in stores and later from its site, for example, and the company more recently even pulled its cool mint flavour from store shelves. As Finan noted, Juul also halted all marketing of its products in the U.S.

But no one gets points for discontinuing their efforts to commit crimes and investigations into the company’s early marketing schemes have dogged the company, as have lawsuits. One filed just weeks ago alleged that Juul shipped one million contaminated pods earlier this year and failed to notify its customers. And now, it’s being sued by the state where it’s headquartered.

“We’ve worked too hard, committed our hard-earned money for too long combatting harmful tobacco use to stand idly by as we now lose Californians to vaping and nicotine addiction,” Attorney General Becerra said in a statement. “JUUL adopted the tobacco industry’s infamous playbook, employing advertisements that had no regard for public health and searching out vulnerable targets. Today we take legal action against the deceptive practices that JUUL and the e-cigarette industry employ to lure our kids into their vaping web. We will hold JUUL and any other company that fuels a public health crisis accountable.”

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