JUUL Labs chief Kevin Burns admitted his company is “partly responsible” for the epidemic of youth vaping in the U.S. but insists it was never the company’s intent to get millions of kids and teens hooked on nicotine.
“We are, of course, partly responsible (for youth vaping). We have 80% of the marketplace, how can we not be responsible for this?” Mr. Burns said in a meeting with The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board. “I don’t think it’s intent, but we are responsible and we’ve got to take action on it.”
Mr. Burns met with The Chronicle to discuss a multitude of issues the controversial San Francisco-based vape maker faces, including remaining in a city that could soon take measures to block the sale of all vape products.
According to The Chronicle, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s bill would prohibit the sale of all vape products in San Francisco until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completes a review to ensure the products’ safety. JUUL and other vape manufacturers have until a 2021 deadline to submit applications to the federal agency.
JUUL says it is spending about $100 million on clinical and behavioral studies exploring the safety of its products. The company plans to submit an application to the FDA once that research is complete.
The company, whose recent pairing with Big Tobacco giant Altria has weakened its credibility as an anti-smoking advocate among critics, also finds itself in the position of trying to remain in a city that largely doesn’t want it.
“I would like for [Juul] to have been gone yesterday,” San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton, who supports Mr. Herrera’s proposed bill to ban the sale of vaping products in the city, told the press.
JUUL’s valuation shot to $38 billion after Altria acquired a 35% stake, giving it almost limitless lobbying resources and political clout. The company has no intentions of leaving San Francisco and is reportedly planning to expand its presence on Pier 70, a city-owned property in the Dogpatch neighborhood.
“… We’re staying,” Mr. Burns told The Chronicle’s editorial board. “San Francisco is our home. We want to be in San Francisco. We have 1,200 employees in San Francisco, a huge talent base in San Francisco. We want to be a resident, and I’m hopeful we’ll find a way to be a resident.”
According to The Chronicle, JUUL is working to put an initiative on the November ballot that would essentially undermine Mr. Herrera’s proposed legislation. Although the bill is framed as a way to further restrict tobacco sales to minors, most of those restrictions are already in place under state law.
“Juul said the ballot measure if passed, would prevent the Board of Supervisors from enacting [a vaping] ban in the future — but it would not negate tobacco laws the city has already enacted, such as a ban on flavored tobacco that voters passed last year,” The Chronicle reported. “It also would not prevent the city from passing additional tobacco regulations, such as putting tobacco products in a lockbox in stores, as long as those regulations do not amount to a ban.”
Like the “Tobacco to 21” measures that JUUL and Altria support, which would raise the legal smoking/vaping age to 21, JUUL’s San Francisco ballot initiative parades as a way to keep nicotine out of reach for minors. Beneath the surface, however, JUUL-sponsored legislation is full of language designed to protect the industry’s interests, including its ability to peddle its products to kids.
JUUL executives have become very good at putting a mask of cooperation and community concern on their aggressive sales agenda. According to The Chronicle, JUUL spokesman Matt David said the company wants to work together with the city “to figure out a solution … but if we have to go the ballot initiative route, we’ll work with our coalition and pursue that option.”
Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett are handling cases involving injuries related to vaping. We are looking at cases involving adolescent addiction and injuries including seizures, strokes, lung problems, and cardiovascular problems related to the use of JUUL vaping devices. If you have these type cases, we would like to work with you.