- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The company that makes an e-cigarette popular with teenagers said Wednesday it supports efforts to raise the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21 and will invest $30 million over three years in strategies to prevent youth from taking up its products.

JUUL, which makes a vaporizer resembling a USB drive, made the announcement one day after the Food and Drug Administration cracked down on it, citing 40 retailers for sales of JUUL products to minors and requesting documents from the company about teen use.

The company said its main purpose is to help adults transition from combustible cigarettes to products like theirs, which heat nicotine in liquid and may be a safer option for smokers.

“We are already seeing success in our efforts to enable adult smokers to transition away from cigarettes and believe our products have the potential over the long-term to contribute meaningfully to public health in the U.S. and around the world,” JUUL Labs Chief Executive Officer Kevin Burns. “At the same time, we are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke, from using our products. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL.”

The company said it will work with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller on measures to keep JUUL products out of the hands of young people.

“JUUL executives have stated from the start that they do not want kids using the product,” Mr. Miller said in a statement Wednesday, adding that the company’s success is threatened by continued illegal purchases by underage buyers.

Mr. Miller plans to convene a group of public health experts to offer advice and best practices to JUUL executives on how to keep their product out of the hands of youth. A spokesman for Mr. Miller said that while the Attorney General will advice the company on hiring objective researchers, the decision ultimately lies with JUUL.

Key questions he hopes the research will address include the youth population using JUUL and the effects and long-term consequences of their use.

Teen smoking rates have declined over the past few years but use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, either vaping devices, e-cigarettes, or now JUUL, have increased among youth.

JUUL launched in 2015 and quickly gained popularity in the market of e-cigarettes. Each JUUL pod — a container filled with a nicotine-liquid — gives the user the equivalent amount of puffs and nicotine found in a pack of cigarettes.

JUUL said it has done this on purpose to retain ever-smokers, so that they receive the nicotine fix they are used to.

Being relatively new on the market, social researchers are scrambling to measure the product’s impact. While the total number of teenage JUUL users are unknown, anecdotal evidence of use in schools and on social media signal a growing problem among today’s youth.

A survey of 1,012 youth by the Truth Initiative, a non-profit teen anti-smoking research and advocacy organization, found that a quarter of respondents recognized the product by name and of those, 23 percent referred to using the product as “JUULing”, “indicating that this product is so distinctive, it is perceived as its own category,” the authors wrote.

Not all vaping products contain nicotine, and many teenagers surveyed in separate federal data say that if they do vape, it’s often with nicotine-free juice.

According to the Truth survey, of the respondents who say they use JUUL, 63 percent didn’t know the product contains nicotine.

JUUL had earlier set up a Youth Prevention section on their website with a direct email address. They also offer up to $10,000 in reimbursement fees for schools or communities to run anti-smoking workshops with their own curriculum.

Earlier research on tobacco company-funded anti-smoking efforts showed they were largely ineffective and their drawbacks included that they emphasized teen smoking as succumbing to peer pressure and against the law, with few mention of the addictive and harmful properties of nicotine or long-term health consequences.

Mr. Miller, one of the longest serving attorneys general in the U.S., was one of the leading attorneys to battle the tobacco industry in court, securing a $200 billion settlement that in part, helped launch the Truth Initiative, where he serves as a board member.

His spokesman said that JUUL is not like other tobacco companies, and that it was developed as an alternative to combustible cigarettes, providing a safer alternative for current smokers.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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