According to The Wire — The embattled American vape company Juul has “supported” one of the Indian companies fighting the government’s e-cigarette ban, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.
Juul, which sells sleek e-cigarettes and flavored nicotine “pods” that have become a craze among American teenagers, was planning to launch in India before the government banned e-cigarettes over fears about youth vaping.
Juul has confirmed to TBIJ that it provided “financial assistance” to Plume Vapours in the past. Plume Vapors had filed legal action against the Indian government’s vape ban in September. In the last many months, Juul had set up an office in Delhi, hired executives from big companies like Mastercard, Uber, and KPMG. Juul sought meetings with the government to lobby over the benefits of e-cigarettes. It also hired PR companies like SPAG Asia; thinktanks like Chase India and vaping organizations like Trends to seed the media with messages about the benefits of e-cigarettes.
Juul’s rise was hampered when the central Indian government banned vapes a few months ago, over concerns over the risks of e-cigarettes and similar products. Soon Plume Vapours and Woke Vapours, local e-cigarette importing companies, filed petitions against the ban. Two Juul officials reportedly sat beside Plume’s founder when the case was filed at a Calcutta court in October.
Despite the ban, Juul products are still available in India in the black market.
Juul has now launched in 20 countries outside the US, including Canada, Russia and much of Europe, but has plans to open in more markets across Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, and has advertised for jobs and lobbied governments in South America.
According to the reveal, Juul has met politicians, regulators, and officials to lobby on vaping rules, putting forward health claims it cannot legally make in the US. It has also launched glossy marketing campaigns that attempt to portray the company as a responsible alternative to smoking.
Juul is requesting private meetings with ministers and ambassadors across the world to promote its e-cigarettes, influence countries’ vaping laws and stop taxes being slapped on its products. Lobbyists have suggested Juul devices can help people quit nicotine altogether, a claim the company would be banned from making in the US, according to transcripts of meetings seen by the Bureau.
Its lobbying offensive even includes offering to help governments write e-cigarette rules, despite the fact that tobacco companies are banned from interfering with public health policy under an international treaty.
Juul said it wants to work with regulators and policymakers to provide “an industry point of view on regulations”.
Experts are worried other countries could face their own teen vaping “epidemics” if Juul is not adequately regulated as it expands.
“Cigarettes are not cool in most communities. But Juul is cool with youth in a number of communities,” said Dr. Vinayak Prasad, head of tobacco control for the World Health Organisation (WHO). “That’s a hugely powerful strategy for the tobacco and related industries, to let these products get in and capture significant market share, getting 6-8% of the young people addicted to nicotine. That’s a huge market for the future.”
“Apart from the known harmful effects of nicotine on the developing brain, nicotine is addictive and could lead people, particularly young people, to take up more harmful forms of nicotine or tobacco consumption.”
A recent wave of mysterious lung illnesses, causing dozens of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations in the US, has compounded Juul’s troubles. These cases have reignited fears over the safety of e-cigarettes and public health debate in which the benefits of switching smokers to a less harmful product are pitted against the risk that non-smoking teens take up vaping.
“The iPhone of e-cigarettes”
Juul was launched by Pax Labs in 2015, and within three years was America’s most popular vape. Dubbed “the iPhone of e-cigarettes”, it combined slick design with enticing flavors like “cool cucumber” and “creme brulée”.
The devices, which could be used discreetly and without releasing much vapor, surged in popularity. A language evolved among teenagers: “ghost ripping” meant taking a discreet drag; “Juuling” became a verb.
Smoking rates in America fell sharply from 2013, with e-cigarettes like Juul contributing to the decline. Yet vaping has been accused of creating a new public health problem: addictions among non-smoking teenagers. In 2011, 16% of high school students regularly smoked and just over 1% vaped; the number of smokers fell to 8% in 2018, but the number vaping soared to almost 21% – more than had smoked before e-cigarettes took off. The FDA declared it an “epidemic” and said Juul was responsible.
Juul said: “We have never marketed to youth and do not want any non-nicotine users to try our products.”
Juul has been hit with hundreds of lawsuits in which Americans claim they were not warned about the potential dangers of vaping, or that the products contained nicotine. Some allege they have suffered respiratory issues, seizures, strokes, mental health, and behavioral problems as a result of their addiction to Juuling.
A host of cities and states have already tried to ban vapes like Juul or flavored nicotine, including a blanket ban in its home city, San Francisco.
Altria told investors it expects hardly any earnings from Juul this year as it expands abroad. But investor presentations show that Altria is confident international revenues can offset the predicted slump in US growth. It hopes Juul’s global sales will match domestic ones within four years.
The company has until May next year to submit an application to the FDA to continue selling its products. It will need to prove they are “appropriate for the protection of public health”.
Juul is seeking how to rewrite the rules
For decades tobacco companies lied about the lethal effects of their products and tried to subvert government policies that would harm their profits. In 2003 a landmark international treaty from the World Health Organisation was ratified by more than 180 countries. One key clause asks governments to protect public health policies from the vested interests of tobacco and e-cigarette companies, limiting interactions and avoiding partnerships.
But, Juul is seeking to shape how countries write the rules that will govern its products, in violation of the treaty.
In a private meeting with a government minister in Vietnam in August this year, lobbyists said Juul was working with a “number of ministries” formulating the country’s new decree on vaping. They offered to consult with the Ministry of Health on the new law. Vietnam is a signatory of the WHO treaty.
“Juul clearly has a systematic global strategy to meet with government officials in private behind closed doors,” said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He added that in his opinion the strategy violated the WHO treaty and repeated methods the tobacco industry has used to undermine reasonable regulation. “It is exactly what the tobacco industry did: replace good science and good evidence with well-paid lobbying and PR firms which operate in secrecy.”
In the meeting in Vietnam, a Juul lobbyist claimed its products could help wean people off nicotine entirely. The lobbyist added that the company is looking to explore whether vitamins could be vaped as a more effective way to get them into the bloodstream, which concerns experts who say there have been no long-term studies on the safety of absorbing nutrients through the lungs.
In Indonesia, campaigners are concerned about Juul’s rise. Experts fear the brand is targeting young people.
Dr. Rafendi Djamin, of the Indonesian National Civil Society Coalition on Tobacco Control, said that the company was aggressively expanding, while e-cigarette regulations had been in limbo for two years. He said: “It has set up kiosks in places that teenagers hang out.” He fears a rise in teen vaping on top of the country’s soaring teen smoking rate. “Vaping in public has become stylish for young people. They idolize vaping.”
Juul has been fighting restrictions on its products since its global expansion began. Its first international market was in Israel, where it launched in May 2018. Within three months, it had been banned by the government because officials believed Juul’s stronger nicotine pods were “a grave risk to public health”.
After launching in the Philippines in June this year, Juul is now fighting the government’s proposal to raise taxes on e-cigarettes. Juul’s stronger 5% nicotine pods, which are banned in the EU, would be badly hit.
During hearings in the Philippine senate in September, Kenneth Bishop, President of Juul Labs Asia-Pacific, claimed that Juul’s products should be taxed less because they were less harmful.
Fearing a surge of vaping-related illnesses as the US has seen, the Philippines’ Department of Health has now asked all hospitals to formally report any cases.
Further reading about Juul in Asia :
- Indonesia May Join Growing Vaping Ban After Illness Reaches Asia
- Review: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte Bans ‘Toxic’ E-Cigarettes And Arrest Users
- Indian Govt Won’t Reconsider E-Cigarette Ban
- India Bans All E-Cigarettes Citing Health Risks
- Juul: Suspend Sales Of All Sweet Flavored Pods Except Mint And Menthol