The lawsuit also claims the company rejected an advertising campaign targeting adults in favor of another directed toward the “cool crowd.” At one point, Juul employees allegedly raised concerns that models in their ads looked too young, but the company used them anyway.
In response to the lawsuit, Juul insisted that attracting underage smokers was never its goal and said in a statement that the company intends to win “the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”
Regardless of Juul’s intentions, the damage for youth nicotine users is done. The portion of high school students who vape — an estimated 25 percent according to the latest data — has skyrocketed in recent years. Scientists warn that nicotine in these products can affect brain development and might make teens more likely to try traditional cigarettes.
But the Massachusetts suit wasn’t the only vaping news last week: A new study funded by the National Institutes of Health shows how the backlash against vaping — specifically through taxes on e-cigarettes — could have unintended consequences. Using data from 35,000 retailers nationwide, the authors of the paper found that every 10 percent increase in e-cigarette prices due to taxes reduced e-cigarette sales by 26 percent, but also increased traditional cigarette sales by 11 percent. While e-cigarettes come with their own toxins, and the long-term effects of vaping are unknown, scientists generally agree that traditional tobacco products come with far more toxins and carcinogens (which is why some health experts consider cigarettes the deadliest consumer product in history).
This isn’t the first study to suggest such a dangerous substitution effect. Another paper from late last year found that Minnesota’s tax on e-cigarettes, among the most severe in the nation, prevented an estimated 32,400 adult smokers from quitting cigarettes. This is important since, in response to the massive surge in vaping — especially among teens — states have scrambled to issue their version of a tax on the products. At least 20 states and the District have done so.
There’s room enough in the vaping debate to accommodate both sides. Yes, vaping companies appear to have targeted their products toward kids and created a potential health crisis in the process. And yes, they have also produced a product that can serve as a viable substitute for cancer-causing cigarettes — one that is significantly more effective than other nicotine replacement therapies at getting smokers to give up cigarettes.
There should be consequences for companies that try to get teenagers hooked on nicotine, and we should expect nothing less from regulators and law enforcement than to punish bad actors. But at the same time, lawmakers must avoid enacting overreaching policies that hamper our tobacco harm-reduction efforts. E-cigarettes aren’t perfect, but with the proper regulations, they can be tools in our decades-long effort to vanquish tobacco use.
This isn’t a difficult nuance to grasp. If the goal is to promote public health, we shouldn’t let that get lost in the emotion and rigid ideology that clouds the vaping debate.