After a nearly yearlong investigation, Colorado is suing JUUL labs, Inc. over its e-cigarettes, claiming the company marketed the devices to minors and misled the public over their health risks, Attorney General Phil Weiser said Tuesday.
According to the lawsuit filed in Denver District Court, the state alleges that from 2015 to the present, JUUL targeted young people with deceptive advertising that downplayed how addictive the nicotine in its products is, and falsely suggested the products are a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes – a violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.
“Addiction to e-cigarettes poses major health risks to Colorado youth,” Weiser said. “JUUL must be held accountable for its reckless, deceptive, and unconscionable marketing that specifically targeted youth, downplayed its nicotine content and the presence of dangerous chemicals, and deceptively claimed its products as a healthy alternative to cigarettes and as a smoking cessation device.”
Weiser’s office said that in July 2018, 27 percent of Colorado high school students reported they had vaped in the previous 30 days, almost double the national average.
The complaint alleges JUUL not only designed its product to be more attractive and easily accessible to youth, including making the device look like a flash drive, which would make it easier for kids to hide from parents and teachers, but also offered the products in youth-friendly flavors like Fruit Medley and Cool Mint.
The company also used “cool kids” in its advertising and social media campaigns, the complaint alleges, including using brand ambassadors to hand out free samples of its products at convenience stores to kids they considered to be “cool” who would influence their peers and classmates.
The state also charges in the complaint that JUUL misrepresented its products as smoking cessation products, and as a modified risk tobacco product without any scientific evidence that such representations were true. The complaint alleges that JUUL paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to QuitMedia, LLC, a fake smoking cessation website operating under the name “Quit Smoking Community.” While the website appeared to be operated by a non-profit focused on helping smokers quit, it was instead a tool for JUUL to advertise that its products helped smokers quit, the complaint said.
The company also failed to disclose that its products had extremely high nicotine content levels – estimated by the attorney general to be 20 times the nicotine of some of its competitors.