Juul Labs Inc., the dominant e-cigarette company in the U.S., spent more than $200,000 sponsoring programs in schools meant to “convey its messaging directly to teenage children,” and marketed to teens by recruiting online influencers, according to a report by a U.S. House subcommittee.
The programs, which took place as recently as last year, used Juul representatives or sponsorships to put on presentations at schools, summer camps and police-run community camps. They were billed as benign-sounding sessions on topics like “holistic health education,” according to the report.
The findings were presented Thursday as part of an investigation into youth e-cigarette use by a panel of the House Oversight and Reform committee. The panel said they gathered thousands of pages of documents to try to determine whether Juul had knowingly marketed to underage users. U.S. representatives called advocates and company executives to testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Thursday, including Juul co-founder James Monsees and Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould.
The panel’s investigation found that as part of Juul’s Youth Prevention and Education effort, the San Francisco-based company paid $134,000 to set up a five-week summer camp in Baltimore for 80 children as young as third graders and paid $89,000 to the Richmond Police Activities League to support a youth program. The report said Juul paid other schools at least $10,000 for access to students and received, in return, survey results and other information from kids in the programs.
Internal emails from Juul show employees discussing how these programs resembled tactics used by cigarette makers in the past. In one email, a Juul employee called them “eerily similar,” according to the report.
Juul representatives disputed the House panel’s conclusions. “We have never marketed to kids,” Gould told the panel on Thursday. “All of these educational efforts were intended to keep youth from using the product.” Juul said in a statement that its youth education program was “short-lived” and ended in September “after its purpose—to educate youth on the dangers of nicotine addiction—was clearly misconstrued.”
On Wednesday, one witness described how Juul approached health officials from Native American groups offering discounted Juul “starter kits” and an investment worth $600,000 if they’d refer adult smokers to the product. In another testimony, a 17-year-old boy said Juul representatives came to his New York City high school and told students in a closed-door session without teachers present that using Juul was “totally safe.”