Marketing Tactics Glamorize Vaping, Claiming E-Cigarettes ‘Totally Safe’ to Teens

Some manufacturers of e-cigarettes and vaping products have come under scrutiny for their marketing practices, especially those that have specifically targeted young people.

Deceptive Marketing & False Claims

On September 9, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter to JUUL Labs, Inc. The letter states that JUUL deceptively sold or distributed its products as “modified risk tobacco products” without permission from the FDA. More specifically, the company engaged in marketing practices that misleadingly represented its products as having a lower risk of tobacco-related disease or causing less harm than other tobacco products — but the FDA never gave JUUL the go-ahead to do so.

It’s illegal to market a product as a modified risk tobacco product without providing scientific evidence to the FDA and obtaining an order from the Agency that supports that kind of marketing.

The FDA’s warning was based on a review of testimony from a July 2019, documents from a 2018 inspection of JUUL Labs, Inc.’s San Francisco headquarters, JUUL’s submissions to the FDA, and JUUL’s website. The Agency required JUUL to immediately address its violations. Failure to comply could result in civil money penalties, seizure, injunction, or further action by the FDA.

Marketing to Minors

Glamor, discretion, and safety: three deceptive features that make e-cigarettes appealing to teens.

A 2018 Truth Initiative study found that the younger teenagers are, the more likely they are to use JUUL products, whose company currently controls 68 percent to 75 percent of the e-cigarette market in the U.S. The study revealed that 15- to 17-year-olds have more than 16 times the odds of using JUUL e-cigarettes than those between the ages of 25 and 34.

The FDA’s September 2019 warning letter noted that JUUL representatives made concerning claims to children in school. The reps referred to the company’s products as “much safer than cigarettes” and “totally safe” and that the FDA would say that JUUL “was 99% safer than cigarettes.”

Taking Action

In addition to the FDA’s letter to JUUL Labs, several lawsuits have called out the company for its targeting of youth customers. One suit filed by a 15-year-old’s parents say that the e-cigarette’s ads “exploit themes that resonate with teenagers” while the company falsely denies doing so.

The State’s Attorney’s Office in Lake County, IL filed suit against JUUL Labs, accusing the company of violating the Prevention of Tobacco Use by Minors and Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products Act. “Just like cigarette companies did in the past, Juul preyed on teens by using advertisements that glamorized their product in order to get kids hooked on nicotine,” Lake County State’s Attorney Michael G. Nerheim said in a statement.

Besides youth-targeted marketing tactics, flavored e-cigarettes and vaping liquid may be partially to blame for the fad among teens. Kid-friendly flavors include mango, fruit, creme, cherry, vanilla, mint, green apple, and others. In response to this possibility, the FDA announced its intention to finalize a compliance policy that would clear the market of unauthorized, non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products.