JUUL Labs, the world’s leading vape maker, has been under fire for promoting its products to minors, but its new ads targeting a more middle-aged demographic are also sparking controversy among anti-smoking experts who claim the company’s latest ad campaign could be breaking the law.
It’s no secret that JUUL built its $38-billion vaping empire with products and aggressive promotional campaigns that targeted minors. In short, JUUL made nicotine easier, tastier, cheaper, and cooler than the conventional tobacco cigarette ever dared to imagine.
But now that it has created a new generation of nicotine addicts, JUUL is reeling in many of its earlier youth-oriented ad materials from social media and is re-branding its products as tools that can help older smokers quit cigarettes.
This latest marketing strategy has prompted the American Heart Association, Truth Initiative, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and three other groups to formally urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate the new ways JUUL is peddling its products.
The groups say that JUUL is making unproven claims for its products, which have never been FDA-approved as smoking cessation aids. In fact, the FDA has never approved any vape brand as a quit-smoking aid.
“Juul, a product that FDA has found to be largely responsible for the current epidemic of youth usage of highly addictive [vape products], is being advertised and marketed on a massive scale as a smoking cessation product, without the required review and approval by FDA,” the anti-smoking groups wrote in a letter to the FDA, according to the Associated Press.
The new JUUL television ads, which so far have aired on major cable channels nearly 3,000 times, feature middle-aged former smokers who now vape. These television spots carefully avoid certain words, such as “quit,” “addiction,” and “health” that are commonly used in association with FDA-approved smoking-cessation aids. Instead, they offer testimonials from vapers who say “switching” to JUUL for a “nicotine fix” has helped them “improve” their life, the AP reports.
To help safeguard itself and its thinly veiled ads from any government backlash, JUUL’s website contains a disclaimer that “Juul products are not intended to be used as cessation products, including for the cure or treatment of nicotine addiction.”
Stan Glantz, a tobacco control researcher at the University of California San Francisco, told the AP that he thinks “the Juul ads are very carefully written and lawyered to confuse the public.” In fact, any smoker desperate to quit would likely view the JUUL ads and think that vaping is a safe and effective way to kick the habit when neither is true.
According to multiple studies, the wide majority of tobacco smokers who start vaping continue to use both products. Although vaping is often touted as a safer alternative to smoking, a growing body of evidence indicates products like JUUL pose their own unique health risks. In addition to nicotine, vaping products contain chemicals and heavy metals that can damage the lungs and airways and promote precancerous growths. The FDA is also researching multiple consumer complaints of vaping causing seizures.
“Anti-smoking experts are perplexed that the FDA hasn’t stopped Juul from pitching its nicotine-emitting device to millions of American smokers looking to quit cigarettes,” according to the AP. They claim the company is “skirting the edges of the law” and regulators are “letting them get away with it.”