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Tobacco Company Questioned by Congress

On July 24th and 25th, in an effort to better understand the origins of, and hold parties accountable for the youth tobacco use epidemic, the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy held two days of hearings.

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The hearings, titled “Examining Juul’s Role in the Youth Nicotine Epidemic” gave members of Congress the opportunity to hear from and question a panel of witnesses ranging from 10th grade students, to a Stanford Professor, and even the Co-Founder of Juul Labs (the #1 selling e-cigarette product in the country). Representatives from the American Heart Association, Truth Initiative, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, along with other public health organizations were in attendance and you can read the Association’s response here.

The 2 days of hearings saw members of Congress question Juul’s role in the origins of the epidemic and led to some startling revelations about the tactics they used to acquire new users. On the first day, Meredith Berkman’s testimony stole the show. As co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-Cigarettes (PAVE), she testified along with her teenage son. In their testimony, they said that a Juul official spoke to ninth graders in a New York school last year (without teacher supervision), showing the children how the products work, calling them "totally safe" and saying FDA would soon state that they were 99 percent safer than traditional cigarettes.

The Berkmans’ example, coupled with the appealing flavors they sell, highlight the tactics that Juul and other e-cigarette companies have used to market their products to kids, which helped give rise to the youth tobacco epidemic. If this sounds familiar…it should! This is straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook and harkens back to the days when tobacco companies claimed to offer “safe and healthy” cigarettes. If you want to combat their efforts please visit our action center where you can quickly and easily contact Congress.

Other panelists discussed Juul's potential to help adult smokers quit, but with several caveats. Robert Jackler, a Stanford professor who has studied e-cigarettes' rise, said that while "it's a superior product to [nicotine] patches and gum" it should be available to adults by prescription and not sold in sweet and fruity flavors. The Association agrees that tobacco flavors, which are proven to be highly appealing to children and teens should be removed from the market.  Dr. Jackler also discussed Juul’s advertising and marketing practices, and how they contributed to today’s youth epidemic.

On day 2 of the hearings, members of Congress had the opportunity to question Juul Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer James Monsees and Juul Chief Administration Officer Ashley Gould. Much of the focus was on Juul’s recent “Make the Switch” campaign and implications that it is a cessation device (Juul denies that it is marketed as a cessation device). They also focused on the choices Juul has made around flavors, and their interactions with younger audiences – particularly going into schools and creating educational programs, and with social media influencers. Many committee members had serious issues with Juul’s tactics and voiced their concerns.

The 2 hearings are a great first step towards Congressional action on the youth tobacco epidemic, but much more needs to be done. The Association is calling on Congress to take immediate action to combat the epidemic by raising the tobacco sales age to 21 across the country and banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. These actions would have long term health benefits for current and future generations and give them a fighting chance to live lives free from tobacco addiction and the associated health risks.

We expect this is just the beginning of tobacco discussions on Capitol Hill and we will be monitoring the situation closely. Please be on the lookout for ways you can help make this happen or visit our action center to contact Congress today!

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