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Colorado’s attorney general will investigate whether Juul marketed to kids, misled on smoking cessation

The probe comes amid policy and public-awareness pushes in Colorado around teen vaping. But Gov. Jared Polis isn’t on board with at least one of the plans -- banning flavored e-cigarettes

A store selling vaping products in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado’s attorney general says he will investigate whether Juul marketed e-cigarettes to children and positioned its products as smoking cessation devices without any basis for the claim.

Democrat Phil Weiser announced in August, as first reported by Colorado Public Radio, that he was launching a probe of Juul. He said the investigation falls under his office’s consumer protection work. 

“We’re going to, obviously, look at other theories that are concerning as well,” he told The Colorado Sun last week, but said improper marketing has been the main legal lens through which Juul has been scrutinized in other places. 

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Colorado isn’t the only state investigating Juul. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois are also digging into the company and the explosion in the use of their products. 

Weiser called vaping a “threat to the public health here in Colorado.” The state is said to have the worst teen-vaping rates in the U.S. 

In addition, two cases of a deadly vaping-related lung illness making its way across the nation have been confirmed in Colorado. There have been at least 380 cases in the U.S. and seven people have died — though no one has died in Colorado.

“We share the attorney general’s concerns about youth vaping and welcome the opportunity to share information about how we have taken the most aggressive actions of anyone in the industry to combat youth usage,” Juul said in a written statement, also pointing out the steps they have taken to make sure children don’t use their products. 

The company also said its vaping devices are not meant to be cessation products, but are rather just another way of consuming nicotine. 

“Switching is not another word for cessation,” the company said. “They mean two very different things. Switching involves continuing to consume nicotine but from a different device, while cessation is about getting users to eliminate their nicotine consumption altogether. We are a switching product — our product contains nicotine and is intended to switch adult smokers from one nicotine delivery system to another — not a cessation product and that is clear in all of our marketing and communications.”

Politicians and health officials have been working frantically to stem teen vaping in Colorado and the Juul investigation is just the latest step. Weiser said the probe is part of a three-pronged effort that includes public-awareness campaigns and policy discussions. 

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser at a news conference in March announcing a lawsuit against the Trump administration. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Already there is talk of raising the age of purchasing tobacco products to 21 during the coming legislative session. (Juul supports this idea.)

An effort during the last lawmaking term to ask voters to create a 62% tax on nicotine products failed after facing swift backlash from the tobacco industry. Colorado currently taxes only cigarettes and cigars and at a level of 40%, giving vaping products a reprieve from the extra cost.

Gov. Jared Polis hoped the tax could be part of the effort to get teens to quit using e-cigarettes by spending a chunk of the revenue it would have created on cessation efforts.

Polis’ office said the governor still believes that the taxation gap between cigarettes and vaping devices and fuel should be closed. “Colorado missed the opportunity to tackle this health issue on the 2019 ballot,” spokesman Conor Cahill said. 

As for a ban on flavored e-cigarettes — seen as attractive to underage vapers — Polis hedged. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an executive action doing just that on Sunday. The Trump administration also recently said it’s planning to ban most flavored vape products, with Juul saying it supports the idea

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Norman Sharpless and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, announces a plan to remove all flavored e-cigarette products from the market as quickly as possible Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House photo by Andrea Hanks)

“The governor supports personal freedom and the ability for adults to make well-informed decisions for themselves,” Cahill said. “And in order to do that, the governor believes consumers deserve transparent and accessible information.”

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