Juul has long been criticized for converting young non-smokers into proficient users of its USB-like tobacco dispenser. (Teens are especially susceptible.) But a new lawsuit, filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, alleges that Juul explicitly targeted kids in its early advertisements, attempting to turn them onto nicotine by featuring “young, cool-looking people” and “rejecting an alternative campaign aimed at older smokers who wanted to quit,” as BuzzFeed reports. The lawsuit alleges that Juul purposefully tried to get its product in the hands of celebrities popular with teens, such as Cara Delevingne and Miley Cyrus, and even featured ads on websites including Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
“Juul knew it was selling to kids. They plastered the internet,” Healy said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that one in three high school students in Massachusetts use e-cigarettes. “You’re doing your math homework and up pops an ad for Juul.”
This isn’t the first time such an argument has been made. In January 2019, Stanford Medical School, through its Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising project, published a paper suggesting that Juul used specific cues intended to appeal to young people. These included “models in their 20s” wearing clothes and posing and ways “more evocative of underage teens than mature adults,” emphasizing “sweet and fruity flavors, especially mango,” and using of “social media influencers as brand ambassadors.” A few months prior, cofounder James Monsees had denied such a strategy, telling The New York Times selling to teens was “antithetical to the company’s mission.”
As for the Massachusetts lawsuit, Juul spokesperson Austin Finan shared the following statement:
“While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning 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.”
Read the full complaint below.