Editor's Note: This version includes a statement of response from JUUL Labs, Inc.
Over the past several months, JUUL has pushed a campaign challenging cigarette smokers to "make the switch" to vapes in order to stop smoking and improve their health. Now state officials are pressing the company to back up those claims.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull announced Tuesday that the state will conduct a civil investigative demand into health claims made by JUUL Labs Inc. that its product can serve as a smoking cessation device.
"JUUL has never been approved as an effective smoking cessation device — in fact, there is mounting evidence to the contrary," Tong said in a press release. "Our investigation will seek to determine whether JUUL is making health claims without FDA approval in violation of the law."
The company launched its "Make the Switch" campaign in early 2019. The campaign included numerous television, radio and digital media advertisements with stories from smokers who had switched from classic cigarettes to JUUL, helping them to stop smoking.
Analysis of the advertising and product has since suggested otherwise, however, and led to calls nationwide for the company to cease its marketing efforts.
Furthermore, a team of researchers with Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising shared a study of the company’s marketing campaign between 2015 and fall 2018 before drawing a clear conclusion that Juul’s marketing “was patently youth-oriented.” Juul also appeared to borrow directly from the tobacco industry playbook, the research notes.
JUUL electronic nicotine delivery systems have never been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a smoking cessation device, which previously was required for such advertising. The state demand will probe to what extent JUUL has marketed itself as an effective smoking cessation device despite lack of FDA approval.
In a statement, the company said Thursday that they are committed to working with Connecticut officials.
“We share the Attorney General’s concerns about youth vaping, which is why we welcome the opportunity to share information about our commitment to eliminate combustible cigarettes and our aggressive, industry leading actions to combat youth usage," said Ted Kwong, spokesman for JUUL Labs. "We strongly advocate for Tobacco 21 legislation nationwide, we stopped the sale of non-tobacco and non-menthol based flavored JUULPods to our traditional retail store partners, enhanced our online age-verification process, strengthened our retailer compliance program with over 2,000 secret shopper visits per month, and shut down our Facebook and Instagram accounts while working constantly to remove inappropriate social media content generated by others on those platforms. And we continue to develop technologies to further restrict underage access.
"To be clear — the JUUL system is a switching product designed to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes to an alternative nicotine delivery and that is how we position it in our marketing and communications. JUUL products are not intended to be used as cessation products, including for the cure or treatment of nicotine addiction, relapse prevention, or relief of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. We look forward to a productive dialogue as we continue to combat youth usage and help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes,” he said.
According to a press release, the demand seeks information related to the formation of the Enterprise Markets Team, marketing materials, information disseminated by the team related to JUUL's effectiveness as a cessation tool for adult smokers, among other inquiries. It will also seek to learn how and why JUUL selects its targeted marketing groups, as well as identifying any measures the company has taken to limit its targeted marketing to current smokers over the age of 21.
The investigation also requests information regarding how many Connecticut consumers purchased JUUL products using such promotional offers, as well as information JUUL may have retained regarding whether promotional pricing consumers are or were current or former smokers and/or electronic nicotine delivery system users.
Tong said the state would then use the information to determine whether further action may be necessary to protect Connecticut consumers.
"We will not prejudge the outcome of this investigation, but stand ready to act to protect public health should we uncover any violation of law," Tong said.