State of Colorado sues JUUL for targeting youth in marketing campaign, misrepresenting product’s health risks
July 7, 2020 (DENVER, Colo.)— Attorney General Phil Weiser today announced that Colorado filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court against JUUL Labs, Inc. to protect Colorado consumers, especially youth, who continue to be endangered by the e-cigarette epidemic.
The lawsuit is the result of a nearly yearlong investigation into JUUL that Weiser announced in August 2019. The complaint alleges that from 2015 to the present, JUUL, which develops and markets e-cigarettes, targeted youth with deceptive advertising that downplayed its ultra-high addictive nicotine concentration and health risks, and falsely suggested its usage as a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes, thereby violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.
“Addiction to e-cigarettes poses major health risks to Colorado youth,” Weiser said. “JUUL must be held accountable for its reckless, deceptive, and unconscionable marketing that specifically targeted youth, downplayed its nicotine content and the presence of dangerous chemicals, and deceptively claimed its products as a healthy alternative to cigarettes and as a smoking cessation device.”
In July 2018, Colorado led the nation in youth vaping, with 27% of high school students stating they had vaped in the previous 30 days—almost double the national rate. The youth vaping epidemic continues to worsen nationwide. From 2018 to 2019, the number of U.S. high school students who vaped in the past 30 days doubled.
Smoking and vaping can also lead to other health concerns for youth. According to Rise Above Colorado, youth who smoke or vape are 10 times as likely to misuse prescription drugs, and more than two times as likely to use alcohol.
The complaint alleges that JUUL took multiple steps to market its product toward youth, including developing a design to make the product more attractive and easily accessible to youth. The JUUL device resembles a USB flash drive – making it difficult for parents and teachers to recognize. JUUL also offered youth-friendly flavors, such as Fruit Medley and Cool Mint, ignoring warnings from public health and government officials that flavored tobacco products lead to youth initiation.
The company targeted what it called “cool kids” through its ads and social media campaigns. JUUL used brand ambassadors to give out free samples at Colorado convenience stores and instructed them to look for “cool kids” who may want to try JUUL and could influence their peers and classmates. JUUL also recruited influencers on social media to help spread the word about its product with the goal of reaching the youth market.
This reckless and deceptive marketing inflicted major harm on Colorado students—from students having difficulty concentrating, to creating a greater need for discipline and disrupting the learning environment, to, most alarmingly, harming Colorado kids’ health.
False and misleading advertising
The complaint also alleges that, through targeted advertising and affiliate marketing, JUUL misrepresented its e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation product and a modified risk tobacco product, scientific substantiation for such claims. In particular, JUUL paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Quit Media, LLC, a search engine optimization consultant that operated a fake smoking cessation website under the name “Quit Smoking Community.” The complaint alleges that the website appeared to be operated by a non-profit group focused on helping smokers, when in fact, it was a tool for JUUL to engage in prohibited marketing.
JUUL’s behavior and claims about smoking cessation belied the fact that many young people move from using e-cigarettes to conventional cigarettes—the opposite of cessation. Indeed, JUUL knew that e-cigarettes may be attractive to young people and may lead them to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes that are known to cause disease.
In its social media advertising and promotions, JUUL often failed to disclose that its product contained nicotine and downplayed its extremely high nicotine content. When JUUL introduced its e-cigarette product on the market, it was almost 20 times the nicotine of its “easy to inhale” competitors.
For its actions, which include leading youth in Colorado to become addicted to JUUL, the lawsuit seeks to recover money for damage caused to the State of Colorado and its citizens and calls for a halt to the company’s unlawful and deceptive trade practices.
Attorneys and staff in the Consumer Protection Division advised the Attorney General on the investigation and lawsuit. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Adams 12 Five Star Schools provided support for the Attorney General’s investigation.
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