Juul, one of the country's leading e-cigarette companies, is accused of illegally targeting young people online in advertising campaigns that featured youthful looking models holding Juul devices, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
"Juul knew it was selling to kids," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Wednesday at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. "They plastered the internet."
The lawsuit also alleges that Juul bought advertising space on websites such as Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and The Cartoon Network, whose primary audiences are underage consumers, some of whom attend elementary school. The lawsuit also alleges that Juul rejected a marketing proposal that targeted adults in favor of one that sought to win the "cool crowd."
(Disclosure: Nickelodeon is a division of ViacomCBS, the parent company of CNET.)
Battery-operated e-cigarettes hit the US market about a decade ago, touted as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. But in recent months, an increasing number of people who vape are winding up in hospital with symptoms that include coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue that worsened over time.
The lawsuit alleges Juul tried to recruit Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart, celebrities with large numbers of underage followers. The lawsuit also alleges that Juul employees and its board of directors acknowledged concern that the models in one campaign appeared too young, but their images were used anyway.
"Juul decided against doing an ad campaign designed for an older audience and instead specifically chose one that targeted young people," Healey said. "The information that we uncovered in our investigation demonstrates Juul's intent -- they didn't accidentally create an advertising campaign with young and attractive people -- that's what they were going for all along."
Juul also allegedly marketed to underage consumers by email and shipped cigarettes to underage high school students in Massachusetts.
"Juul allowed more than 1,200 accounts to be established for Massachusetts consumers using school email addresses, including email addresses associated with high schools in Beverly, Malden and Braintree and shipped its products to recipients with obviously fabricated names, like 'PodGod,'" the lawsuit states.
A Juul spokesman said the company hadn't yet reviewed the lawsuit but denied that attracting underage smokers was its goal.
"We remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the US and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes," Juul's Austin Finn said in a statement.
The Massachusetts lawsuit isn't the first sign of trouble for Juul and the vaping industry more broadly. Vaping companies have been sued on similar grounds in other courts. San Francisco banned the sale of e-cigarettes in June.
Juul representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
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