Healey launches probe into vaping company Juul

Attorney General Maura Healey has launched an investigation against Juul, the largest vaping company in the country, to determine whether it intentionally markets to minors and whether it tracks underage use of its products.

“We are investigating and we want answers,” Healey said last week at a press conference.

Based on how the e-cigarettes are advertised and flavored, Healey said Juul seems to be following the playbook that cigarette companies wrote more than a generation ago, using cartoon characters like Joe Camel and TV ads featuring the Marlboro Man that hooked youths with a smelly and expensive habit that might wind up killing them.

“They’re engaged in an effort to get kids addicted,” Healey claimed. Many teens who experiment with vaping don’t realize they are receiving a dose of highly addictive nicotine, Healey said.

A company spokesman says Juul has never marketed to anyone underage and the company tries to block anyone below the age of 21 from purchasing its products.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with the Massachusetts Attorney General because, we too, are committed to preventing underage use of JUUL. We utilize stringent online tools to block attempts by those under the age of 21 from purchasing our products, including unique ID match and age verification technology,” said Matt David, chief communications officer at JUUL Labs. “Furthermore, we have never marketed to anyone underage. In fact, we have done very little marketing relative to our growth.”

Juul was founded by entrepreneurs who smoked and were “looking for a better alternative to smoking,” according to the company. In May, Juul’s CEO, a former executive at the yogurt-maker Chobani, said the company does not want any teens to use the products, which he said are geared toward smokers.

“We want to disrupt the trillion-dollar global tobacco market and have a meaningful, positive impact on public health worldwide. We think that is within our reach,” CEO Kevin Burns wrote, announcing support for raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21, a $30 million three-year investment into research and youth engagement, and cooperation with officials on tobacco control.

Lawmakers on Thursday sent Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would ban the use of vape pens and other e-cigarettes from everywhere smoking is already banned and increase the age at which people can purchase tobacco or e-cigarettes to 21, from 18.

Healey held last Tuesday’s press conference to raise awareness about a harmful product, according to her office.

The attorney general’s office has issued cease and desist letters to Direct Eliquid LLC and Eonsmoke, which operate three online retailers, demanding that they stop selling e-cigarette products in Massachusetts without an “adequate age verification system.” Healey described those websites - directeliquid.com, buyjuul.com and eonsmoke.com – as “the online equivalent of a liquor store that doesn’t check IDs.”

The attorney general also issued civil investigative demands, which are like subpoenas, against those two companies and Juul, Healey said. Massachusetts is the first state to issue those types of demands of an e-cigarette company, according to Healey.

While the demands are confidential, Healey is looking for a “variety of documents” so that prosecutors can understand more about the marketing policy and interaction between Juul and retailers, both online and brick and mortar, and the number of people under the age of 21 who use Juul or similar products.

The Charlestown Democrat who is seeking a second term this year also objected to what she said was Juul’s pitch to school districts to offer a “prevention curriculum,” and she said her office warned all Bay State school districts about what she deemed a “brazen” attempt for the vaping company to contract directly with schools.

“It’s a little like letting the fox into the hen house,” said Healey, who said she is unaware of any schools that have agreed to work with Juul.