Imagine you have a school health seminar about addiction. The teachers leave the room so you and your classmates can talk freely with the guest speaker. After the door closes, the speaker tells you he works for Juul. He says Juul’s products are totally safe . . . but the company doesn’t want you using them. After the seminar, you ask about nicotine addiction. The presenter pulls out a Juul pen, shows you how it works, and calls it “the iPhone of vapes.”
Wait. Didn’t he just say he didn’t want you using a Juul? So why is he now sort of selling you on it?
Two years ago, this happened to Caleb Mintz, then a 16-year-old from New York City. As he listened to the speaker, Caleb couldn’t help but question his motivations. “I believe he was trying to reassure kids that they could use Juul pods without harming themselves,” Caleb says.
Turns out, Caleb was right. In June, Juul Labs’ marketing ploys sparked a congressional investigation into the company’s role in increased nicotine use by teens. Caleb testified at a congressional hearing in July, and the committee’s research revealed that Juul has been using manipulative tactics to target teens. Not only did it tap social media influencers to promote its products, it also—alarmingly—paid schools for access to students, setting up presentations, a curriculum, and even a summer program for kids. (The person giving Caleb’s seminar was hired by an outside company that provided speakers for the school.)
Juul called these initiatives “healthy lifestyle” programs, but really, they likely served as recruitment drives for new, young customers who would get hooked on vaping for life. The congressional committee concluded that Juul “deliberately targeted children in order to become the nation’s largest seller of e-cigarettes.”
In other words: Teens who vape didn’t make that decision entirely on their own. They were intentionally influenced by a major corporation.