Sat. Oct 1st, 2022
An attractive young person smokes an e-cigarette.
enlarge Juul went for a fashionable, “cool” marketing strategy.

Popular e-cigarette maker Juul has deliberately and blatantly modified its marketing to target underage youth, according to a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Feb. 12.

The company’s early marketing in 2015 and 2016 purposefully used young, “cool” models in its launch campaign, recruited teenage “influencers” on social media, and bought banner and video ads on numerous websites targeting teens and children, including Cartoon Network’s cartoon network. . com and Nickelodeon’s sites Nick.com and NickJr.com. Juul went so far as to email advice to underage consumers on how to circumvent age restrictions to purchase the company’s e-cigarettes online.

The lawsuit comes as public health officials across the country continue to grapple with an explosion in youth use of e-cigarettes, which the Food and Drug Administration has called an “epidemic.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recent e-cigarette use by high school students increased from 0.6 percent to 10.5 percent between 2011 and 2019. For secondary school students, use rose from 1.5 percent to 27.5 percent in that period. That means, in 2019, more than 1 in 4 high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days as of the time of the survey.

In all, 5.4 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarette in 2019, up from 3.6 million in 2018, according to the CDC.

While there have been several e-cigarette makers with dubious appeal to young people, Juul has received the fiercest criticism — and several other state affairs. Juul is by far the leading brand of e-cigarettes in the US and clearly has marketing practices and flavorings that appeal to children. While e-cigarette use by young people soared between 2017 and 2018, Juul’s sales rose a whopping 783% to $942.6 million, according to a Wells Fargo analysis of Nielsen data, reported by CNBC at the time. .

The FDA, in particular, has gone after Juul, including sending numerous warnings and raiding the company’s San Francisco headquarters in 2018. Last fall, the agency sent another warning letter to Juul about making unproven safety claims — in some cases directly. to children while they are in school without the presence of teachers and without parental consent.

While the new investigation and lawsuit by Massachusetts Attorney General Healey doesn’t paint an entirely new picture of Juul’s marketing activities, it does provide new details about his methods.

“JUUL is responsible for the millions of young people across the country who are addicted to e-cigarettes, reversing decades of progress in the fight against underage tobacco and nicotine use,” Healey said in a statement. “Our lawsuit sheds new light on the company’s intent to target young people, and we’re going to make them pay for the public health crisis they’ve caused in Massachusetts.”

Out with the old, in with the new

For starters, the investigation revealed that when Juul was gearing up to release its e-cigarette products, it initially partnered with a Calgary-based advertising agency called Cult Collective Ltd. The company pitched an initial marketing strategy for Juul that would explicitly appeal to the elderly. Cult recommended envisioning Juul as a “hero” and “technology company, not a tobacco company” that would provide a superior alternative to cigarettes.

Cult recommended a “retro” themed ad campaign that juxtaposed items from the 1980s, such as a boombox, an old cell phone and a joystick, with a sleek, modern Juul e-cigarette.

“These images featured products that were easily recognizable to older consumers — products that teens today may only recognize from old movies,” the lawsuit points out.

But Juul rejected the idea, the indictment said. Juul instead developed a new marketing strategy to “win with the cool crowd in critical markets.” It involved young, fashionable models, often in a sexually provocative context, the lawsuit alleges.

Juul also bought ads on teen and kid-targeted websites. In addition to the Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network sites, it also bought ads on sites like allfreekidscrafts.com, hellokids.com and kidsgameheroes.com. Juul targeted sites used by young girls, including dailydressupgames.com, didigames.com, forhergames.com, games2girls.com, girlgames.com, and girlsgogames.com.

Juul also targeted math and social studies sites used by middle and high school students, including coolmath-games.com, basic-mathematics.com, coolmath.com, math-aids.com, mathplayground.com, mathway. com, onlinemathlearning.com, and purplemath.com, and socialstudiesforkids.com.

Finally, Juul bought ads on sites targeting teens and high school students, including teen.com, seventeen.com, justjaredjr.com, and hireteen.com, as well as collegeconfidential.com, collegeview.com., collegehumor.com, collegeprepster.com and survivalcollege.com.

Juul also tried to attract celebrities who appealed to teens, including Twilight stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, and former child actor and musician Miley Cyrus.

The lawsuit also alleges that Juul was at best lax about age verification for online purchases and allowed online consumers to create accounts with domain names associated with high schools.

According to the lawsuit:

The JUUL customer service representatives even advised consumers on how to circumvent the minimum legal sales restrictions by shipping JUUL products to another person with an address in a city with a lower legal age for sale. In an email from support@juulvapor.com dated February 21, 2018, “Don” of the “JUUL Care Team” told a consumer whose order was canceled due to a failed age verification: “The legal age to buy nicotine products in Milton, MA is 21 and over If you have friends or relatives in Quincy, MA, please use their address as the shipping address for your order.

In an emailed statement to Ars, Juul spokesperson Austin Finan said the company “has not yet reviewed the complaint”.

He went on to say that Juul “remains focused on re-establishing the vape category in the US and gaining the trust of society.” He noted that amid the backlash, Juul “discontinued sales of flavored pods other than tobacco and menthol in November; halted our advertising for television, print, and digital products; implemented a $1 billion restructuring plan; refrained from lobbying the government on its draft flavor guidelines and supported the final policy.”

He added: “Our customer base is made up of the world’s 1 billion adult smokers, and we have no intention of attracting underage users.”

By akfire1

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