E-cigarette giant Juul Labs announced Wednesday that it will pay $22.5 million to settle a Washington state lawsuit that alleges it intentionally targeted teens with its products while deceiving consumers about addiction to e-cigarette products.
“Goole’s behavior hurt Washington,” Ferguson said. “Juul broke the law; they did it over and over again.”
Ferguson said the company “fueled an astonishing rise in e-cigarette use” that “overturned decades of progress in combating youthful addiction to nicotine.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Juul does not admit any wrongdoing or liability, and says it was settled “for the purpose of bargaining” and to avoid further lawsuits.
Juul should also stop all ads that attract young people and stop most social media ads, with limited exceptions. He could continue to run Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn ads showing adults who were regular cigarette smokers giving testimonials about Juul products.
Already, in 2019, Juul announced the suspension of all print, broadcast, and digital advertising in the United States.
Juul must also conduct a “mystery shopper” program in Washington to confirm the ages of its customers, with a minimum of 25 checks per month for at least two years. The mystery shopper program, which Ferguson described as “the most robust” in the state, requires shoppers to confirm retailers’ compliance with age and product limits and then file a report with the attorney general.
The settlement money will be paid out over four years. Ferguson’s office will use it to create a new “health justice” unit to respond to “discriminatory and deceptive health care practices that disproportionately affect vulnerable communities and communities of color.”
Austin Finan, a spokesperson for Juul, said the company supports efforts to address the use of minors, including monitoring and enforcement in the future.
“This settlement is another step in our ongoing efforts to reset our company and resolve issues from the past,” Finan said. “The terms of the settlement are consistent with our current business practices and prior agreements to help combat the use of minors while allowing adult smokers to access our products as they transition away from combustible cigarettes.”
Ferguson said Juul is currently facing similar lawsuits in at least 12 other states.
Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in 2020 in King County Superior Court, alleged that as of 2015, Juul used a social media campaign of young models, with bright colors and “concepts of being ‘cool’, ‘soft’ and ‘elegant’.” “.
Juul used “youth-friendly flavors” in an introductory packaging that included cool mint, fruit mix, and creme brulee, Ferguson wrote, claiming that Juul “knew that these flavors were most popular with underage consumers.”
Marketing succeeded. In 2019, more than 20% of high school sophomores reported using vape products in the past 30 days, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Ferguson wrote that Juul, at the time, had more than 70% of the e-cigarette market.
But teenage e-cigarette use has been on the decline lately. In 2020, 19.6% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes recently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey. Last year, that number dropped to 11.3%.
Juul stopped selling fruit and sweet flavors in October 2019 as it tried to quell political backlash, even though the discontinued flavors made up less than 10% of the company’s sales.
Ferguson also alleged that the company deceptively marketed e-cigarettes to all consumers, not just children and teens. Ferguson wrote that the company represented one joule chamber as having the same nicotine content as a pack of cigarettes, while one pack could deliver twice the amount of nicotine found in a pack of cigarettes.
Ferguson alleged that Juul also marketed its products as a smoking cessation device despite not having the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval needed to make such claims.
“Current evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that Juul products are effective in helping users quit smoking,” Ferguson wrote. “By contrast, the opposite concern is very real: that people (especially young people) start using e-cigarettes and switch to conventional cigarettes.”
This settlement is the latest in a series between Juul and countries that allege the company has engaged in deceptive practices and marketed e-cigarettes to children.
In November, the company agreed to pay Arizona $14.5 million and pledged not to market to youth in the state. Last June, the company agreed to pay North Carolina $40 million, even if it denied any wrongdoing or liability. The company also said it had reached a settlement with Louisiana.