RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia joined 34 U.S. states and territories in signing a $438 million settlement with vape company Juul over their marketing to children, setting strict limitations on the company’s business practices.
“Youth vaping is an epidemic, and from the get-go JUUL has been a leader in the e-cigarette industry. But JUUL targeted young people with deceptive social media advertising campaigns and misled the public about the product’s dangers,” said Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares.
While e-cigarettes, like all regular tobacco products, have only been permitted to be sold to adults over the age of 21 since 2019, a national investigation found that they deliberately targeted youth with advertising campaigns across social media.
According to Miyares, the investigation revealed that Juul “relentlessly marketed to underage users with launch parties, advertisements using young and trendy-looking models, social media posts and free samples.”
In addition to the $16 million cash payment to Virginia, Juul has agreed to a ban on several controversial practices that advocates say contributed to a rise in youth vaping. Some of the banned practices are:
- Youth marketing
- Funding education programs
- Depicting persons under age 35 in any marketing
- Use of cartoons
- Sale of flavors not approved by FDA
- Allowing access to websites without age verification on landing page
- Sponsorships/naming rights
- Advertising in outlets unless 85 percent audience is adult
- Social media advertising (other than testimonials by individuals over the age of 35, with no health claims)
- Use of paid influencers
- Direct-to-consumer ads unless age-verified
- Free samples
“My office will continue to go after and hold accountable companies that market addictive products like e-cigarettes to minors, with no concern for their health or well-being,” Miyares said.
Federal survey data shows that teens have largely shifted away from the company since it began to face nationwide backlash over its business practices. The data did show a drop in vaping rates among teens, but federal officials cautioned that the drop may be attributable to pandemic restrictions, and that rates may jump again with students returning to in-person learning.
The Richmond-based Altria Group – formerly known as Phillip Morris – was a major investor in Juul, but lost more than $11 billion on the company as it faced pressure from regulators. Altria owns approximately 35% of Juul, and the company represents Altria’s major foray into vaping and other tobacco alternatives – a venture that now appears to broadly be a failure.