Juul bought ads ap­pear­ing on youth web­sites, suit says

San Francisco Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Sheila Kaplan Sheila Kaplan is a New York Times writer.

Juul Labs, the San Fran­cisco va­p­ing com­pany that has long in­sisted it never mar­keted its prod­ucts to teenagers, pur­chased ad space in its early days on nu­mer­ous youth­fo­cused web­sites, in­clud­ing those of Nickelodeo­n, the Car­toon Net­work, Sev­en­teen mag­a­zine and educationa­l sites for mid­dle school and high school stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed Wed­nes­day by the Mas­sachusetts at­tor­ney gen­eral.

The suit, brought against Juul by the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Maura Healey, pre­sents some of the stark­est ev­i­dence to date that the com­pany was go­ing af­ter young non­smok­ers soon af­ter its found­ing, from June 2015 through early 2016.

Juul ex­ec­u­tives de­clined im­me­di­ate com­ment on the law­suit.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Juul re­jected an ini­tial mar­ket­ing pro­posal by a mar­ket­ing firm it had hired, Cult Col­lec­tive, that would have branded it as a tech­nol­ogy com­pany with a tar­get au­di­ence of adult smok­ers. The pro­posal that was re­jected fea­tured im­ages of out­dated tech­nol­ogy like clunky tele­phones and joy­sticks, with a pic­ture of a Juul de­vice and the words, “Smok­ing Evolved.”

In­stead, the law­suit says, Juul dropped Cult Col­lec­tive, and hired an in­house in­terim art di­rec­tor to pro­duce “Va­por­ized,” the youthori­ented cam­paign, fea­tur­ing beau­ti­ful mod­els in provoca­tive poses.

“Juul de­cided against do­ing an ad cam­paign de­signed for an older au­di­ence and in­stead specif­i­cally chose one that tar­geted young peo­ple,” Healey said. “The in­for­ma­tion that we un­cov­ered in our in­ves­ti­ga­tion demon­strates Juul’s in­tent — they didn’t ac­ci­den­tally cre­ate an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign

with young and at­trac­tive peo­ple — that’s what they were go­ing for all along.”

The 66­page com­plaint in­cludes im­ages of young mod­els that it claims were dis­played in dig­i­tal ads on web­sites, mo­bile apps and so­cial me­dia. It in­cludes an ex­ten­sive list of sites where Juul prod­ucts were pro­moted that the law­suit says were clearly de­signed for teenagers and even younger chil­dren.

The suit says Juul paid a com­pany to place dig­i­tal pro­mo­tions across web­sites.

The list where they ran in­cludes educationa­l sites like Ba­sic­Math­e­mat­ics, Cool­math, MathAids, Math Play­ground, Math way, On­line MathLearn­ing, Pur­ple math and So­cial Stud­ies for Kids.

It in­cludes sites de­signed for young girls such as such as Daily Dres­sup Games, Didi Games, ForHerGame­s, Games2­Girls, Girl­Games and Girls­GoGames.com.

It also in­cludes sites geared to high school stu­dents look­ing at col­leges, like Col­lege Con­fi­den­tial, and sites aimed at much younger chil­dren, in­clud­ing All FreeKids Crafts, Hello Kids and Kids­Game­Heroes.

The law­suit charges that Juul at­tempted to re­cruit celebri­ties and so­cial me­dia per­son­al­i­ties with large num­bers of un­der­age fol­low­ers, such as Miley Cyrus, Cara Delev­ingne, Kristen Ste­wart, Luka Sab­bat and Tavi Gevin­son.

It also claims that Juul shipped elec­tronic cig­a­rettes to cus­tomers who gave stu­dent email ad­dresses at high schools.

“Juul al­lowed more than 1,200 ac­counts to be es­tab­lished for Mas­sachusetts con­sumers us­ing school email ad­dresses, in­clud­ing email ad­dresses as­so­ci­ated with high schools in Bev­erly, Malden and Brain­tree, and shipped its prod­ucts to re­cip­i­ents with ob­vi­ously fab­ri­cated names, like ‘PodGod,’ ” the law­suit states.

The com­plaint also con­tained an email sent from a Juul cus­tomer ser­vice ad­dress ad­vis­ing a young cus­tomer how to get around age re­stric­tions. In the email from sup­[email protected]­ul­va­por.com dated Feb. 21, 2018, the com­plaint says, “Don from the ‘Juul Care Team’ told a con­sumer whose or­der had been can­celed due to an age ver­i­fi­ca­tion fail­ure: ‘The le­gal age to pur­chase ni­co­tine prod­ucts in Mil­ton, Mass. is 21 years old and above. If you have friends or rel­a­tives in Quincy, Mass., you may use their ad­dress as a ship­ping ad­dress for your or­der.’ ”

The law­suit claims that Juul worked with hun­dreds of Mas­sachusetts stores to sell its prod­ucts, in­clud­ing ap­prox­i­mately 850 stores the com­pany knew were cited by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion for at­tempt­ing to sell to­bacco prod­ucts to un­der­age teenagers. Al­though Juul caught some of these stores try­ing to sell its de­vices and pods to youths, the law­suit says, it con­tin­ued to work with those stores.

The law­suit comes at a time when Juul is strug­gling to im­prove its rep­u­ta­tion. K.C. Crosth­waite, who re­placed Kevin Burns as CEO in Septem­ber, stopped sales of most fla­vored e­cig­a­rettes be­fore the re­cent FDA fla­vor ban.

Juul, like other eci­garette com­pa­nies, has un­til May to ap­ply for FDA ap­proval to stay on the mar­ket. The FDA will con­sider sev­eral fac­tors, among them whether Juul can keep its prod­ucts out of the hands of mi­nors.

This week, the state of Penn­syl­va­nia sued Juul, al­leg­ing that the com­pany mis­led con­sumers about the ad­dic­tive na­ture of its liq­uid ni­co­tine pods and mar­keted them to youths. Josh Shapiro, the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, asked the court to ban Juul, or, bar­ring that, ban all non­to­bacco­fla­vored Juul prod­ucts.

Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Illi­nois, Min­nesota, Mis­sis­sippi, New York and North Carolina are among the other states that have sued Juul over its mar­ket­ing prac­tices, as well as the District of Columbia.

“The in­for­ma­tion that we un­cov­ered in our in­ves­ti­ga­tion demon­strates Juul’s in­tent.”

Mas­sachusetts At­tor­ney Gen­eral Maura Healy

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