Investigators from 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday.
Attorneys general from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas said they will be leading the multi-state investigation into San Francisco-based Juul, which also is facing lawsuits by teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company's vaping products.
The state officials said they also will be investigating the company's claims about the risk, safety and effectiveness of its vaping products as smoking cessation devices.
"I will not prejudge where this investigation will lead," Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement, "but we will follow every fact and are prepared to take strong action in conjunction with states across the nation to protect public health."
Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others.
"We will continue to reset the vapour category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working co-operatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes," the statement said.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said underage vaping has become an epidemic across the country.
"I cannot sit on the sidelines while this public health epidemic grows, and our next generation becomes addicted to nicotine," Moody said.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford added, "Preying on children and those looking for help to quit smoking is the one of the most despicable examples of risking people's lives for corporate profit."
The brainchild of two Stanford University design students, Juul launched in 2015 and quickly rocketed to the top of the multibillion-dollar vaping market.
The company initially sold its high-nicotine pods in fruit and dessert flavors, including mango, mint and creme. The products have become a scourge in U.S. high schools, with one in four teenagers reportedly vaping in the past month, according to the latest federal figures. Juul is the most popular brand, preferred by 60% of high schoolers.
Juul's meteoric rise has been followed by a hasty retreat in recent months, amid a nationwide political backlash over vaping. Although Juul remains the dominant player in the U.S. vaping market, the company has made several concessions, including halting its advertising and pulling all its flavors except menthol and tobacco from the market. The Food and Drug Administration recently put in place flavour restrictions designed to curb use of small, pod-based e-cigarettes like Juul.
The FDA and a congressional panel have ongoing investigations into whether the company's early marketing efforts — which included online influencers and product giveaways — deliberately targeted minors.
Nine attorneys general have previously announced lawsuits against the company, most alleging that the company adopted the playbook of Big Tobacco by luring teens with youth-oriented marketing while failing to stop underage sales.
Earlier this month Massachusetts' Maura Healey sued the company, citing company records to allege that Juul bought advertisements on websites designed for teens and children, including Seventeen.com, Nickjr.com and Cartoonnetwork.com.