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House panel: E-cig maker Juul directly targeted children in schools

By Darryl Coote
House panel: E-cig maker Juul directly targeted children in schools
The committee cited examples of what it considers attempts by Juul to market the device to children as young as eight. File Photo by Mylesclark96/Wikimedia Commons

July 26 (UPI) -- A House subcommittee has accused Juul Labs of deliberately targeting children as young as eight in its push to become the nation's leading e-cigarette maker.

In the documents -- submitted Thursday by Democratic Members of the House oversight committee's panel on economic and consumer policy, as part of an investigation into Juul's advertising practices -- the committee accused the company of having "deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children."

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The committee's report, based on 55,000 non-public documents, said it found Juul paid schools tens of thousands of dollars to run youth education programs that copied those formerly operated by traditional cigarette makers. It also said Juul operated a "youth prevention and education" division that paid schools a minimum of $10,000 to reach students during school hours, summer school and weekend programs.

The program was ostensibly to educate students who were caught smoking e-cigarettes in school about the dangers of nicotine.

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The report cited one example in which Juul paid $134,000 to set-up a five-week summer camp for 80 students the company knew was "eerily similar" to programs run by large cigarette companies, quoting an email by Julie Henderson, director of Juul Labs Youth Prevention and Education director.

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Juul also ran an influencer program to promote online, the committee said. Juul hired Grit Creative Group to "curate and identify 280 influencers in LA/NY to seed Juul product to over the course of three months," according to a work agreement obtained by the committee.

A second contract with Grit shows Juul paid the company to get "social media buzz-makers with a minimum of 30,000 followers" to attend Juul launch events to create a network or creative people who can be leveraged as "loyalists for Juul."

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The investigation comes amid concerns over the company's marketing practices and whether it aided in what the U.S. surgeon general called an "epidemic of youth e-cigarette use."

During the second day of hearings Thursday, Juul Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould distanced the company from the report, saying the program aimed to educate children about nicotine dangers.

"We had hired education experts that we thought would be helpful to stop kids using Juul and we then received feedback," Gould said.

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Juul co-founder James Monsees said the company did not want to advertise to children.

"We never wanted any non-nicotine user, and certainly nobody underage, to ever use Juul products," he said. "Our company has no higher priority than fighting [underage use]."

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