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Shaheen, Senators to JUUL/Altria: Protect Children Over Products

Senators continue investigation of JUUL’s marketing tactics to children, motives for partnership with tobacco giant Altria

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter today with a group of Senators led by Dick Durbin (D-IL) to JUUL Labs’ new CEO K.C. Crosthwaite and Altria CEO Howard Willard slamming the companies for their role in fueling the youth vaping epidemic and probing the recent corporate marriage of JUUL—the most popular e-cigarette product among children—with Altria, the manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also signed the letter.

The Senators posed an extensive series of questions to JUUL about the company’s marketing tactics to hook children on nicotine with kid-appealing flavors, efforts JUUL is taking to ensure its products aren’t being tampered with in order to vape illicit substances, and the company’s plans to adhere to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations of their products. 

“For years, JUUL has targeted children, spread misinformation about its products, and refused to conduct unbiased, basic research on its cessation and health claims.  Every single one of our federal public health agencies has declared youth vaping an “epidemic”—an epidemic that JUUL, more than any other company, has fueled.  As the new CEO of JUUL, you are now responsible for what happens next.  It is our hope that you choose to protect children over profits,” the Senators wrote to JUUL CEO K.C. Crosthwaite. 

The Senators also posed questions about Altria’s $12.8 billion investment in JUUL, Altria’s recent corporate takeover of JUUL leadership, and reports that Altria has cancelled merger talks with tobacco giant Phillip Morris. On September 25, it was reported that Altria’s Chief Strategy Officer would become the new Chief Executive Officer of JUUL, further cementing the partnership between the two companies.

“Despite JUUL’s longstanding claims to be an alternative to cigarettes and distinct from Big Tobacco, this corporate takeover raises major concerns about whether Altria has been calling the shots for JUUL, and the extent of their relationship,” the Senators wrote to Altria CEO Howard Willard. “The decision by Altria to invest substantially in JUUL suggests that Altria views JUUL as a gateway for future cigarette smokers, your customers.  While this may be good news for your investors, it is bad news for our children.”

Federal public health agencies have identified JUUL as being largely responsible for fueling the e-cigarette epidemic among America’s youth.  Despite advertisements by JUUL that its e-cigarettes are safer alternatives to cigarettes—which the FDA recently warned were unsubstantiated and illegal claims—no clinical trials have been conducted to prove that JUUL products actually help adult smokers quit cigarettes. Today, five million children are vaping. America has seen a 135 percent increase in youth vaping over the past two years alone. 

The Senators asked for a response to their questions by October 14, 2019.

The letter to JUUL CEO K.C. Crosthwaite is available here and the letter to Altria CEO Howard Willard is available here. 

Last week, Shaheen introduced new legislation with Senator Blumenthal to crack down on e-cigarette companies and close a tax loophole that allows manufacturers to claim federal tax deductions for the cost of advertising for e-cigarettes and tobacco products. Senator Shaheen has prioritized efforts in the Senate to tackle the youth vaping crisis. She’s leading legislation – the E-Cigarette Youth Protection Act – which would require e-cigarette companies to pay fees to the FDA to help fund federal prevention efforts and ensure that the agency has the resources needed to enforce a future ban on flavored e-cigarettes. She’s also held multiple meetings with students, education, law enforcement and health officials across the state about the ongoing public health concern. Shaheen also recently introduced the E-Cigarette Device Standards Act of 2019 with Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), which would set safety standards in the design of e-cigarette and vaping devices to prevent dangerous tampering or modifying of the devices’ delivery systems in ways that are not intended by the manufacturer.