The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to Juul over its marketing practices and representing its products as less harmful than traditional cigarettes, the agency announced this week. The FDA’s warning came with the threat of pulling Juul products from sale if it fails to comply with the agency’s investigation.
The letter addressed to the company’s CEO Kevin Burns follows Congressional hearings earlier this year in which—among other things—Juul was accused of marketing its products to kids as “totally safe” and a “safer alternative than smoking cigarettes,” claims the FDA says Juul was not authorized to make. The FDA also said Juul used language in a letter by Burns on the company’s website that claimed its “simple and convenient system incorporates temperature regulation to heat nicotine liquid and deliver smokers the satisfaction that they want without the combustion and the harm associated with it.”
“Regardless of where products like e-cigarettes fall on the continuum of tobacco product risk, the law is clear that, before marketing tobacco products for reduced risk, companies must demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does, in fact, pose less risk or is less harmful. JUUL has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement. “In addition, we’re troubled about several issues related to JUUL’s outreach and marketing practices that came to light in a recent Congressional hearing.”
Juul is expected to provide a written response to the agency within 15 business days with its plans for correcting any violations as well as preventative measures for complying with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act moving forward. Failure to comply could result in fines or the seizure of Juul products, the FDA said.
During the congressional hearings in July, teens testified that a representative for Juul visited a ninth-grade classroom in April 2018 and described the company’s vape products as “totally safe” while at the same time claiming that the company didn’t want them as customers, seemingly as a manipulation tactic. Another teen who was quoted in the warning letter testified that he was told by the rep that he “should mention JUUL to his [nicotine-addicted] friend…because that’s a safer alternative than smoking cigarettes, and it would be better for the kid to use.”
In addition to the testimonies, investigations into Juul’s marketing have turned up problematic ads that appear to have targeted youth, including by using young-looking models in bright, highly-stylized images and by marketing fruity flavors, which the FDA says are more likely to appeal to kids.
In a separate letter sent to Juul this week, the FDA requested that the company hand over documents and information related to Juul’s “actual or considered” outreach to youth and adults and internal materials related to those efforts. Further, the letter requests documentation related to data about youth, influencer programs, its “Make the Switch” campaign and “Switching Program,” as well as other information that surfaced during testimonies earlier this year.
Reached for comment, a Juul spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement by email that the company is “reviewing the letters and will fully cooperate.”