JUUL sponsors con­ven­tion, as Dems say they don’t take Big To­bacco money

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY AN­DREW SHEELER [email protected]­bune­news.com

On a night when 2020 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates were scor­ing big ap­plause lines, one of the big­gest lines at last week­end’s Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party state con­ven­tion came not from Eliz­a­beth Warren or Bernie San­ders, but party ac­tivist Hene Kelly.

“What com­mit­tee should I go to to ask this party not to take any money from JUUL, who preys on chil­dren?” Kelly said to the roar of ap­plause.

JUUL Labs, maker of a line of e-cig­a­rette prod­ucts in pop­u­lar use among mid­dle and high school stu­dents, had a prom­i­nent spon­sor slot on the stage, where Demo­cratic politi­cians like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Gavin New­som and a bevy of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and state of­fi­cials spoke.

Asked their rea­son for spon­sor­ing the event, JUUL Labs spokesman Ted Kwong said in a state­ment, “At JUUL Labs our phi­los­o­phy is to sup­port peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions to im­prove the lives of the world’s one bil­lion smok­ers and to com­bat un­der­age use so we keep JUUL prod­ucts out of the hands of young peo­ple.”

The spon­sor­ship got peo­ple talk­ing, but per­haps not in the way JUUL en­vi­sioned.

Kelly wasn’t alone in her out­rage. Dean Wal­lace, district direc­tor for Assem­bly­woman Buffy Wicks, D-Oak­land, tweeted video of Kelly speak­ing and of­fered his own con­dem­na­tion.

“It was shame­ful. And com­pletely at-odds with our party’s val­ues (and rules),” Wal­lace tweeted.

“Are you kid­ding me, (Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party)!? You took $$$ from JUUL and ran their ad at the con­ven­tion? SO over this sell­ing out,” tweeted Ruth Malone, a pub­lic health pol­icy ex­pert from the Bay Area.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Ma­teo, an out­spo­ken critic of to­bacco com­pa­nies, said he couldn’t be­lieve his eyes when he saw the spon­sor­ship.

“I was baf­fled be­cause it’s a long-stand­ing pol­icy of the Demo­cratic Party not to take money from Big To­bacco,” Hill said.

JUUL is one-third owned by Al­tria, which owns to­bacco gi­ant PhilipMor­ris USA.

“You can’t get any more to­bacco money than JUUL,” Hill said. “The party of the peo­ple should not be con­tribut­ing to the ad­dic­tion of our young peo­ple.”

But the Demo­cratic con­ven­tion is just one ex­am­ple of JUUL’s po­lit­i­cal spend­ing; the vape prod­uct man­u­fac­turer has also spent more than $211,000 in lob­by­ing at the Capi­tol. It has also bought ad­ver­tis­ing in cap­i­tal­me­dia, in­clud­ing The Sacra­mento Bee.

Ac­cord­ing to pa­per­work filed with the Cal­i­for­nia Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice, JUUL “ed­u­cated elected of­fi­cials and staff on (the) com­pany.”

“We have grown our Cal­i­for­nia team to en­gage with law­mak­ers, reg­u­la­tors, pub­lic health of­fi­cials and ad­vo­cates to drive aware­ness of our mis­sion to im­prove the lives of the world’s one bil­lion smok­ers and to com­bat un­der­age use so we keep JUUL out of the hands of young peo­ple,” Kwong said in a state­ment.

They also were ad­vo­cat­ing in op­po­si­tion of Se­nate Bill 38, sponsored by Hill, a bill that would have banned the sale of fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts. The bill was pulled at Hill’s re­quest af­ter “hos­tile amend­ments” were added that ex­empted hookahs and prod­ucts pa­tented be­fore 2000.

Hill was re­luc­tant to at­tribute the com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion to add the hos­tile amend­ment to any par­tic­u­lar lob­by­ing.

“One never knows what in­flu­ences or af­fects leg­is­la­tion in this build­ing,” he said.

How­ever, Hill was much clearer stat­ing his be­lief that JUUL was us­ing its deep pock­ets to its ad­van­tage.

“It’s ob­scene when you look at the amount of money that JUUL is spend­ing in this Capi­tol, this build­ing,” Hill said. “There’s no length nor amount of money they won’t spend to try to con­vince leg­is­la­tors and the pub­lic that they’re a good com­pany and do­ing good work when the facts don’t sup­port that.”

In the past, Hill has ar­gued that vape fla­vors such as cot­ton candy or as­sorted fruits can be at­trac­tive to chil­dren. There’s ev­i­dence to bear this out: the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ports that more than 3.6 mil­lion mid­dle and high school stu­dents re­ported va­p­ing in 2018, dou­ble the num­ber from the pre­vi­ous year.

Kwong ar­gued that “fla­vors are a com­plex is­sue. We be­lieve fla­vors play a critical role in switch­ing adult smok­ers from cig­a­rettes be­cause fla­vors can help smok­ers dis­as­so­ci­ate from the taste of to­bacco and the odor of cig­a­rettes.”

JUUL wasn’t the only SB 38 op­po­nent to spend tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in lob­by­ing, but it was the big­gest spender. To­bacco prod­uct man­u­fac­turer SwedishMat­ch North Amer­ica spent more than $31,000, the Cigar As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica spent $24,000 and the Va­por Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion spent $23,000.

By com­par­i­son, the Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion — which with­drew spon­sor­ship of SB 38 af­ter the hos­tile amend­ment — spent a to­tal of $4,684.81 on lob­by­ing this year, with SB 38 be­ing just one of dozens of bills that the non­profit lob­bied on.

“We’re ab­so­lutely out­gunned when you look at the money, but the truth is, peo­ple see this as a prob­lem,” said ALA spokes­woman Lind­sey Fre­itas.

In a state­ment, Kwong said JUUL “(has) led, and will con­tinue to lead, the cat­e­gory and sup­port cat­e­gory-wide ac­tions to re­verse the trend in youth use, while pre­serv­ing this un­prece­dented opportunit­y for adult smok­ers.”

While SB 38 is dead this leg­isla­tive ses­sion, JUUL has lob­bied on sev­eral other to­bacco-re­lated bills, some of which are ac­tively work­ing their way through the Leg­is­la­ture:

B 39, which tightens A regulation­s on the on­line sale of fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts.

B 424, which bans A sin­gle-use vape prod­ucts.

AB 131, which bans child-friendly vape ads and pack­ag­ing.

JEFF CHIU AP

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks dur­ing the 2019 Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party State Or­ga­niz­ing Con­ven­tion in San Fran­cisco on June 1.

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