Business

AG suspects e-cigarette maker JUUL of marketing to minors

This Juul e-cigarette resembles a thumb drive.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/File 2017
This Juul e-cigarette resembles a thumb drive.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has begun investigating the popular vaping company JUUL Labs Inc., saying that it appears to be marketing its products to minors.

“Just when teen cigarette use has hit a record low, ‘juuling’ and vaping have become an epidemic in our schools with products that seem targeted to get young people hooked on nicotine,” Healey said at a news conference Tuesday.

The company’s vaping devices are designed to appeal to young consumers, Healey said, with a sleek, high-tech appearance and a variety of protective skins that make them look like school supplies.

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“We are, unfortunately, seeing many companies pick up the playbook of the cigarette companies and get young kids addicted,” she said.

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The investigation will look at whether California-based JUUL adequately monitors its website “to see how effective they are at preventing minors from accessing JUUL or JUUL compatible products.”

Healey’s office has also sent letter to two other online retailers, Direct ELiquid LLC and Eonsmoke LLC, ordering them to stop selling JUUL vaping devices and other electronic smoking products in Massachusetts without verifying buyers’ ages.

“I have one message for these companies: Stop selling this stuff to young people. It’s a matter of public health; it’s a matter of public safety,” Healey said.

Matt David, a spokesman for JUUL, said in a statement that the company will cooperate with the attorney general’s office but does not market its products to underage consumers.

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“We have done very little marketing relative to our growth,” David said. “Like many Silicon Valley technology startups, our growth is not the result of marketing, but rather a superior product disrupting an archaic industry. When adult smokers find an effective alternative to cigarettes, they tell other adult smokers.”

A 2016 report by the US surgeon general called e-cigarette use a major public health concern. It grew “an astounding 900% among high school students from 2011 to 2015,” the report said.

In Massachusetts, more than 25 percent of high school students are active users by their senior year, according to a 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Tobacco companies know that if adolescents begin using their products before 21, it’s likely they’ll have a lifelong customer,” said Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

David, the JUUL spokesman, said the company has pledged $30 million over the next three years for independent research, education, and community engagement.

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“We want to partner and engage with policy makers, lawmakers, educators, and parents to combat underage use,” he said. “We stand committed to working with those who want to keep JUUL out of the hands of young people.”

Jerome Campbell can be reached at jerome.campbell@globe.com.