Juul Labs used Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Seventeen magazine to hawk its vaping products, despite the company’s insistence that it never marketed to kids, a new lawsuit claims.
The suit filed Wednesday by the Massachusetts attorney general presents some of the most blunt evidence yet that the company was targeting kids in 2015 and early 2016 as it rolled out its tobacco-based electronic cigarettes.
The 66-page complaint says Juul “rejected” a proposed “technology-focused advertising campaign” that sought to juxtapose the sleek Juul e-cigarette with “retro” images of a bulky boom box, an old-school Atari joystick and a brick-like mobile phone from the 1980s.
Instead, the company “chose to promote its products with images of ‘cool’ young models,” the lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court states.
It marketed its products with banner and video ads on kids websites including nickjr.com and nick.com, both affiliated with the children’s TV network Nickelodeon, as well as Cartoon Network, the complaint states.
It also “purchased tens of thousands of impressions for video and banner advertisements” on websites designed to help middle school and high school students with their classwork and social issues, including coolmath-games.com, mathway.com, seventeen.com and teen.com, according to the lawsuit.
And it sought to recruit popular teen celebrities such as pop star Miley Cyrus, “Twilight” actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson and online influencers Luka Sabbat and Tavi Gevinson to promote its products, the filing states.
“So here we are. JUUL got an entire generation addicted to nicotine in a matter of years. Families and communities are buckling under the weight of a massive public health crisis. They deserve justice for the harm that’s been done,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a Twitter post Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges Juul made more than 10,000 shipments of e-cigarettes to Massachusetts consumers without verifying the age of the recipients.
It initially let users set up Juul accounts using email addresses associated with Massachusetts high schools in Beverly, Malden and Braintree before disallowing such accounts in 2018, the filing alleges.
A Juul spokesman declined to comment on the new lawsuit specifically but said the company is now “focused” on combating “underage use.”
“While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. 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,” the statement said.
“As part of that process in the U.S., we are preparing comprehensive and scientifically rigorous Premarket Tobacco Product Applications, stopped the sale of flavored pods other than Tobacco and Menthol in November, halted our television, print and digital product advertising, implemented a $1 billion restructuring plan, refrained from lobbying the administration on its draft flavor guidance and support the final policy,” the statement said.
“Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers, and we do not intend to attract underage users,” it said.
The new Massachusetts lawsuit demands Juul pay for the costs associated with combating what Healey called a “public health crisis” affecting young people.
“JUUL is responsible for the millions of young people nationwide who are addicted to e-cigarettes, reversing decades of progress in combating underage tobacco and nicotine use,” she said. “Our lawsuit sheds new light on the company’s intent to target young people, and we are going to make them pay for the public health crisis they caused in Massachusetts.”