A distinct pattern has emerged in the lawsuits that continue to stack up against electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs. In the vast majority of these cases, young people claim that it was the company’s marketing that spoke specifically to them and encouraged them to try their first puff.
Publicly, Juul vehemently denies that it has ever targeted minors and asserts it exists merely as a less toxic alternative for smokers of traditional cigarettes. Internally, however, the company has called its own practices into question where youth are concerned and has worked tirelessly to court – and pay – young social media “influencers” to put its product on phone and computer displays just about everywhere and in just about every age group.
These are the revelations brought to light by a House of Representatives subcommittee report that found that, among other things, “Juul deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children; Juul also targeted teenagers and children, as young as eight years old, in summer camps and public out-of-school programs; and Juul recruited thousands of online “influencers” to market to teens.”
“Influencers” had to have a minimum of 30,000 followers on their platform of choice to be considered and were paid well for the access they could provide. In exchange, they were invited to product launches and other events meant to engage them and get them to post about the device and their relationship with it. Direct access to children, however, was also purchased by Juul Labs in its endeavors such as its establishment of summer camps for low-income youth from grades three through 12.
Juul was well aware of the parallels between its tactics and the tactics used by traditional tobacco companies before such methods were outlawed. According to internal documents obtained by the House subcommittee, “Juul was aware that its programs were ‘eerily similar’ to those used by large cigarette makers, and even internal executives raised concerns about their work in schools.”
As lawsuits targeting the company continue to pile up, the House report might provide some of the greatest insight yet into a company that professes to do such good, while its tactics and aspirations may be no better than the industry it appears to idolize.