The FDA just called out e-cig startup Juul and tobacco giant Altria for backing away from a pledge to fight teen vaping

woman vaping vape e-cigShutterstock

  • Regulators recently accused Silicon Valley e-cigarette startup Juul and its new partial parent company, tobacco giant Altria, of reneging on promises they made to curb teen use of their products.
  • In a letter sent out this week, the head of the Food and Drug Administration requested a meeting with both companies to talk about what happened and how to move forward.
  • Researchers have said they believe Juul and its ultra-strong nicotine products have essentially created a new generation of people addicted to nicotine.

Bad habits are tough to break.

Regulators recently accused Silicon Valley e-cigarette startup Juul and its part owner, tobacco giant Altria, of reneging on promises they made to try and curb teen use of their products.

And this week, they requested a meeting with both companies to discuss what they believe went wrong, as well as potentially outlining steps to reinstate those efforts.

In letters sent to Juul and Altria on Wednesday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb asked leaders of both companies to sit down and discuss how the Marlboro maker's recent purchase of a 35% stake in Juul will affect its promise to help curb teen use of e-cigs. Teen vaping has skyrocketed since Juul entered the e-cigarette market.

Read more: The company behind Marlboro just made a huge bet on Juul, and the move makes the Silicon Valley e-cig startup more valuable than Airbnb

"When we meet, Juul should be prepared to explain how this acquisition by Altria affects the commitments you made to the FDA about addressing the crisis of youth use of Juul products," Gottlieb wrote in the letter.

The letter is a follow-up to a series of statements Gottlieb made on Twitter over the holidays in which he said Juul's leaders were responsible for the 78% increase in teen vaping that occurred in 2018.

"There's no reason manufacturers must wait for FDA to more forcefully address the epidemic. Yet some already appear to back away from commitments made to FDA and the public," Gottlieb wrote.

"Manufacturers and management are accountable for the youth epidemic," he added.

Researchers and scientists have said they believe Juul and its ultra-strong nicotine products have essentially created a new generation of people addicted to nicotine.

There's evidence that Juul used evocative imagery and sex appeal to market its creme-brulee-flavored e-cigs on Twitter and Instagram - platforms that are mostly used by young people and teens. There's also evidence that the company used a combination of buzzy parties and free samples to attract youth users.

"Juul's launch campaign was patently youth-oriented," Robert Jackler, a practicing Stanford physician and the principal investigator behind an investigation into Juul's marketing strategy, told Business Insider last November.

Read more: $15 billion startup Juul used 'relaxation, freedom, and sex appeal' to market its creme-brulee-flavored e-cigs on Twitter and Instagram - but its success has come at a big cost

As Juul products have surged in popularity, amassing 70% of the e-cigarette market, so too has the market for so-called "Juul-alikes," or products that mimic their uniquely high concentration of nicotine. One Juul cartridge is estimated to contain roughly the same nicotine content as a pack of conventional cigarettes.

But its new deal with Altria could make matters worse.

Altria, who'd also been making its own pod-based e-cigarettes before investing in Juul, said in October that it would stop selling those devices until it got FDA permission to do so or until the youth vaping issue was "otherwise addressed," the New York Times reported.

But its deal with Juul may have essentially reversed those promises by giving Juul the chance to sell its devices in more than twice as many retail outlets as it had previously been offering its products.

"I'm reaching out to both companies to ask them to come in and explain to me why they seem to be deviating from the representation that they already made to the agency about steps they are taking to restrict their products in a way that will decrease access to kids," Gottlieb told the Times.

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