Colorado’s Attorney General Is Investigating E-Cigarette Giant JUUL Over Deceptive Marketing

John Daley/CPR News
JUUL packages, devices and pods are easy to find tossed in the yards of homes near Boulder High.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said Wednesday his office is investigating whether the electronic cigarette giant JUUL engaged in deceptive marketing.

“We are currently looking at conduct by JUUL with respect to whether or not they engage in deceptive marketing,” Weiser said, pointing to Colorado’s high rates of teen vaping. “Colorado teenagers who engage in vaping are ten times more likely to end up addicted to more serious substances. This issue is a public health fire alarm. We’ve got to answer this alarm.”

Colorado tops the nation for teen e-cigarette use, according to a 2018 survey of more than three dozen states. An estimated 27,000 Colorado high schoolers report vaping more than 10 days a month. “This vaping epidemic, it’s serious, in part because (e-cigarette manufacturers) make it easy, fun, and they have these flavors,” Weiser said.

JUUL Labs said it is concerned about teen vaping and is taking steps to limit it. "We share the Attorney General’s concerns about youth vaping," a JUUL spokesman said in an email. He also pointed to steps the company has taken to cut youth use, including advocating for raising the smoking age, shutting down Facebook and Instagram accounts, and developing technology to restrict underage access.

The move follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed in May by North Carolina's attorney general. Attorney General Josh Stein asked a court to limit what flavors the company can sell and ensure underaged teens can’t purchase it. 

He accused JUUL's marketing practices of creating an "epidemic" among young people through "unfair and deceptive" marketing practices. Stein said JUUL understated the strength of the nicotine in each e-liquid pod and downplayed the risks. That lawsuit is still making its way through the courts.

Stein’s office filed lawsuits this week in state court against eight more companies that sell vaping products. His office is accusing the companies of "aggressively targeting children and do not require appropriate age verification when selling these dangerous and addictive products."

The Massachusetts attorney general also announced a investigation in May into JUUL's sales and marketing last year. In July, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong launched an investigation into the e-cigarette company. He said he concerned marketing practices and smoking cessation claims. Weiser indicated Colorado’s probe is in its early stages. 

In recent weeks, patients have been hospitalized with breathing disease linked to vaping. Colorado has one confirmed cases and three suspected cases, health officials said earlier this week.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated Massachusetts had sued JUUL. To date, the state has just launched an investigation.