OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – Oklahoma is set to receive $8.9 million in a settlement with popular e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL. This comes after a multi-state investigation found that the company relentlessly marketed to underage users.
The settlement is a $438.5 million agreement in principle between JUUL Labs and 34 states and territories resolving a two-year investigation into the e-cigarette manufacturer’s marketing and sales practices.
“I am pleased to work alongside other attorneys general in holding JUUL accountable for its irresponsible marketing efforts that pushed Oklahoma kids toward nicotine and addiction,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said on Tuesday. “JUUL has put countless Oklahoman minors at risk, and as attorney general I will fight to prevent another generation from becoming addicted to nicotine.”
Of the $438.5 million, Oklahoma will receive approximately $8.9 million. The settlement will also force JUUL to comply with a series of strict injunctive terms severely limiting their marketing and sales practices, including restricting where the product may be displayed/accessed in stores, online sales limits, retail sales limits, age verification on all sales, a retail compliance check protocol, and refraining from youth marketing.
According to O’Connor, the investigation found that JUUL relentlessly marketed to underage users with launch parties, advertisements using young and trendy-looking models, social media posts and free samples. It marketed a technology-focused, sleek design that could be easily concealed and sold its product in flavors known to be attractive to underage users. JUUL also manipulated the chemical composition of its product to make the vapor less harsh on the throats of the young and inexperienced users. To preserve its young customer base, JUUL relied on age verification techniques that it knew were ineffective.
The investigation further revealed that JUUL’s original packaging was misleading in that it did not clearly disclose that it contained nicotine and implied that it contained a lower concentration of nicotine than it actually did. Consumers were also misled to believe that consuming one JUUL pod was the equivalent of smoking one pack of combustible cigarettes. The company also misrepresented that its product was a smoking cessation device without FDA approval to make such claims.
Oklahoma City nonprofit Teen Recovery Solutions doesn’t want to overstate the victory.
“It’s a small step in the right direction,” said Executive Director Joe Don Fennell.
He told KFOR solving teen addiction goes far beyond e-cigarette sales.
“Yes, this is helpful,” he said. “I would rather them not have JUUL than have it, but this reminds me of the war on drugs that has not worked here in this country because it’s a supply side war.”
Fennell said, rather, the state should focus more on addressing why there’s such strong demand for products like JUUL, pointing to the lack of mental health resources for juveniles.
“The reason why they vape is because it’s changing the way they feel,” he explained. “So, a great use for that nine million dollars would be to plant a seed to create the state of Oklahoma’s only adolescent drug and alcohol rehabilitation center because there is none.”
JUUL released a statement on the multistate settlement on Tuesday, saying, “This settlement with 34 states and territories is a significant part of our ongoing commitment to resolve issues from the past. The terms of the agreement are aligned with our current business practices which we started to implement after our company-wide reset in the Fall of 2019.”