Durbin, Colleagues To JUUL / Altria: Protect Children Over Profits

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today sent letters to JUUL Labs’ new CEO K.C. Crosthwaite and Altria CEO Howard Willard slamming the companies for their role in fueling the youth vaping epidemic and probing the recent corporate marriage of JUUL—the most popular e-cigarette product among children—with Altria, the manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes.

The Senators posed an extensive series of questions to JUUL about the company’s marketing tactics to hook children on nicotine with kid-appealing flavors, efforts JUUL is taking to ensure its products aren’t being tampered with in order to vape illicit substances, and the company’s plans to adhere to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations of their products. 

“For years, JUUL has targeted children, spread misinformation about its products, and refused to conduct unbiased, basic research on its cessation and health claims.  Every single one of our federal public health agencies has declared youth vaping an “epidemic”—an epidemic that JUUL, more than any other company, has fueled.  As the new CEO of JUUL, you are now responsible for what happens next.  It is our hope that you choose to protect children over profits,” the Senators wrote to JUUL CEO K.C. Crosthwaite. 

The Senators also posed questions about Altria’s $12.8 billion investment in JUUL, Altria’s recent corporate takeover of JUUL leadership, and reports that Altria has cancelled merger talks with tobacco giant Phillip Morris. On September 25, it was reported that Altria’s Chief Strategy Officer would become the new Chief Executive Officer of JUUL, further cementing the partnership between the two companies.

“Despite JUUL’s longstanding claims to be an alternative to cigarettes and distinct from Big Tobacco, this corporate takeover raises major concerns about whether Altria has been calling the shots for JUUL, and the extent of their relationship,” the Senators wrote to Altria CEO Howard Willard. “The decision by Altria to invest substantially in JUUL suggests that Altria views JUUL as a gateway for future cigarette smokers, your customers.  While this may be good news for your investors, it is bad news for our children.”

Federal public health agencies have identified JUUL as being largely responsible for fueling the e-cigarette epidemic among America’s youth.  Despite advertisements by JUUL that its e-cigarettes are safer alternatives to cigarettes—which the FDA recently warned were unsubstantiated and illegal claims—no clinical trials have been conducted to prove that JUUL products actually help adult smokers quit cigarettes. Today, five million children are vaping. America has seen a 135 percent increase in youth vaping over the past two years alone.

The Senators asked for a response to their questions by October 14, 2019.

The letter to JUUL CEO K.C. Crosthwaite is available here.

The letter to Altria CEO Howard Willard is available here