A House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy held a hearing on Wednesday to identify JUUL Labs, Inc.’s responsibility for the widespread nicotine addiction in today’s youth.
The hearings aim to learn more about their role in the rise of tobacco usage among youth. It also seeks to understand JUUL’s relationship with Big Tobacco.
Altria Group, Inc., one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, had invested $13 billion in the tobacco-alternative company last year.
The subcommittee has called on the tobacco-alternative company based on allegations from the Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes (PAVE) that the JUUL has been marketing to teens. The direct marketing has led to the rise in the nicotine-addiction which experts describe as “epidemic-level.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) reported that there had been a 38% increase in tobacco use among the youth from 2017 to 2018. Among high school students who use tobacco, 20.8% uses e-cigarettes.
Brian King, CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health deputy director, expressed his disappointment regarding the latest statistics on youth’s tobacco use. He said, “That progress that we’ve made over the past years has been completely erased, and it’s a primary result of e-cigarettes.”
Two teens testified during the hearing and shared that a JUUL representative made a presentation to his ninth-grade class. Caleb Mintz and Phillip Fuhrman went in front of Congresspeople in Capitol Hill to discuss the details of the seminar.
The representative spoke as part of a “mental health [and] addiction seminar.” Teachers were asked to leave the room during the session.
During the presentation, the JUUL rep repeatedly assured teens that the e-cigarettes were “totally safe.” The presenter would also quickly adds, “but we don’t want you as customers” after each assurance. A JUUL device was also shown during the presentation but was not used within the school’s premises.
Based on Mintz’s testimony, students in his class were relieved when the presenter assured them that the e-cigarette device was not addicting. He also felt that the representative was urging them to try JUUL. He was appealing to the teens’ impulse to rebel by consistently telling them that they are not the company’s customers.
Mintz’s friend, Fuhrman, also testified that the JUUL representative specifically encouraged them to use their products. Fuhrman was already addicted to JUUL when the presenter talked in their class. Mintz asked the representative for advice on weaning his friend, who was addicted to nicotine.
Fuhrman stated, “The speaker thought that he was talking about cigarettes, and he said that he should mention Juul to his friend.”
He further said that the representative emphasized that the e-cigarette was “a safer alternative than smoking cigarettes, and it would be better for the kid to use that.”
Dorian Fuhrman gave accounts on how JUUL affected her son’s life. She noted that once Phillip was addicted to JUUL, he became moody and put a strain on his relationship with his family.
The parents of both teens were furious when they learned about the seminar. Meredith Berkman, Mintz’s mother, talked to the organizers of the workshop and discovered that the school did not know that one of the presenters was from JUUL. The third-party organizer also mentioned that the JUUL representative’s official title was “Youth Prevention Coordinator.”
The representative did the presentation as part of the company’s Education and Youth Prevention Program. It ended in September 2018.
Berkman stated that the third-party organizers were naive. She also assures the subcommittee that the organizers did not mean harm when they invited the JUUL representative to do the seminar.
JUUL executives and representatives will also testify on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Rise of JUUL in Social Media
CDCP’s reported that there are two factors to the increase of young people using e-cigarettes: advertising in social media and the product’s addicting flavors.
In November 2018, JUUL deactivated their social media accounts. However, months before that, posts on JUUL products populated Facebook and Instagram. On Instagram, #juul posts reached more than a million.
Research on #juul posts showed that 47% of content dominated Instagram. Among those posts, 15% are JUUL products. The study on Instagram was not limited to pictures. Captions that mention JUUL was also included.
Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, announced a new policy banning posts that involve the sale or purchase of tobacco products between users will now take effect.