The company behind the popular e-cigarette Juul said Wednesday it wants to help stop minors from using its products. The announcement came one day after federal regulators opened the door to taking enforcement action against the company.
The e-cigarette has become so popular among teens it's acquired its own verb: "Juuling." Schools around the country have started training parents and installing vaping detectors in bathrooms to try to stop young people from using the e-cigarettes.
Juul Labs said Wednesday it will invest $30 million over three years to fund independent research, youth and parent education and community engagement efforts. It will also support state and federal initiatives to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21.
The company will work with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, public officials and others interested in tobacco control to develop a framework to research the scientific and societal implications of vapor products.
In a statement, Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns said the company's mission is to eliminate cigarettes and help more than 1 billion smokers switch to a better alternative.
"At the same time, we are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke, from using our products. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try (Juul)," he said.
The initiative does not cover the most scrutinized aspect of Juul: the product itself.
Critics argue flavors like "creme brulee" attract kids and mask the fact that one pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. The device, which is as small as a flash drive, is easy to hide from parents.
Dollar sales of Juul have soared 710 percent over the past year, according to Nielsen data compiled by Wells Fargo. The brand captured more than half of the $2 billion e-cigarette market in the four-week period ended March 24.
Public health officials and lawmakers have urged the Food and Drug Administration to take some sort of action. The FDA issued a letter on Tuesday to Juul Labs asking for a slew of company materials, including marketing documents, research on whether certain products' design features, ingredients or specifications appeal to different age groups.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also announced the agency has started an undercover campaign to see whether retailers are illegally selling to minors. So far, it's issued 40 warning letters.
Juul said it will call on social media sites to remove content showing or encouraging minors using the e-cigarette and call on online shopping pages to remove Juul products when they don't require age verification. The company also plans to build on its existing secret shopper program and give retailers educational information on the negative effects of kids using nicotine.
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers said Juul's actions aren't a substitute for effective regulation. The organization and a handful of others recently sued the FDA for delaying a rule that would require e-cigarettes to seek regulatory approval.
"History has shown over and over again that voluntary action by tobacco manufacturers doesn't work," Myers said in a statement. "It is not a substitute for effective government regulation of the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products to protect public health and keep kids from using them."