HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut launched an investigation Wednesday into the marketing practices of Juul Labs, becoming the latest state to probe the vaping product manufacturer's health claims and appeal to young people.
State Attorney General William Tong said his probe is part of a national effort to curb youth vaping, which has included congressional hearings, a lawsuit in North Carolina over Juul's marketing practices and similar investigations in states such as Massachusetts.
Juul, which launched in 2015, now controls nearly three-quarters of the $3.7 billion-dollar retail market for e-cigarettes. There has been concern about the soaring number of young people taking up vaping. Last year, one of every five high school students reported vaping in the previous month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many states, including Connecticut, want to determine if Juul has properly limited its marketing to adults, Tong said. But Connecticut's investigation will focus on whether the company is illegally selling its products as smoking-cessation devices.
Juul's products have never been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help people quit smoking and marketing them as cessation devices would be illegal, Tong said.
"They are making the claim that they are helping people quit smoking and so we are testing that claim," Tong said. "If that's your main explanation or excuse, we'd like to know whether it is true or not."
Juul spokesman Theodore Kwong said the company's products are not intended to be used to quit nicotine. Instead, he said they are marketed to help adults switch from cigarettes to "an alternative nicotine delivery."
But at congressional hearings focused on Juul's marketing, technology and business practices last week, company co-founder James Monsees testified that his company developed its device and flavor pods for adults who want to stop smoking and "eliminate cigarettes for good."
Kwong also pushed back against allegations that the company is targeting young people in its marketing.
Juul has taken steps to reduce youth vaping, including eliminating the sale of certain flavors, strengthening online age verification and shutting down some social media accounts, he said.
A Stanford University Professor Robert Jackler, an expert in tobacco advertising, testified that Juul's early promotions — including youthful models, colorful advertising and launch parties across the U.S. — mimicked tactics pioneered by cigarette makers.
In May, six anti-tobacco and health groups called on the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates e-cigarettes, to investigate Juul's marketing efforts across TV, radio and other formats.
Tong said he hopes the states' efforts put pressure on the FDA to do that. But he said Connecticut, which recently raised the legal age to smoke or vape from 18 to 21, is unwilling to wait for Washington.
"We're the latest shoe to drop, but I think there will be more action across the country on this issue," he said.