In recent years, advocacy groups have worked to quell the teen vaping epidemic. Now, animals — including Doug the Pug! — are getting in on the efforts.
In a new video from the Truth Initiative, an anti-tobacco advocacy group, creatures from elephants to dogs take a stand against the massive e-cigarette company JUUL. The 30-second spot, titled “Tested On Humans,” will air during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards on Monday.
“No one knows the long term effects of JUULing, so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat,” a rat is shown saying in the clip as two other rodents hold a sign that reads “RATS AGAINST HUMAN TESTING.”
The video is just the latest effort by the Initiative to combat JUUL e-cigarette use among teens. The Initiative holds that vaping is most popular among teenagers and, according to the JUUL website, one JUUL pod has the nicotine strength of one pack of cigarettes.
“We did a recent survey and found out that 63 percent of young people don’t know that JUUL always contains nicotine,” Eric Asche, chief marketing officer of the Initiative, tells PEOPLE. “We know more about what’s in a bag of potato chips than what’s in a JUUL product. The threat is real. The danger is real.”
JUUL Labs, based in San Francisco, launched its product in 2015 as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. JUUL products now represent 75 percent of e-cigarette sales at mass retail outlets and convenience stores, NPR reported this month, citing a report from Wells Fargo Securities senior analyst Bonnie Herzog.
“What we’re attempting to do is really come alongside young adults and educate them so they can make an informed decision,” Asche says. “JUUL is a cultural phenomenon … it’s a product that was focused on and launched targeting youth. Our goal is to use culture to win back the minds of youth and young adults.”
Asche says that’s why the Initiative enlisted the help of internet favorite Doug the Pug for the video. The beloved dog boasts nearly 4 million Instagram followers and photos with stars like Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas.
“I will never stop fighting JUUL!” the pug is shown saying in the clip. “Or the mailman.”
JUUL has long held that its target audience is adults. Health advocates have questioned that assertion, noting that JUUL has utilized social media to sell its products, according to NPR.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for JUUL said they “do not want non-nicotine users to buy JUUL products.”
“We stopped the sale of non-tobacco and non-menthol based flavored JUULpods to our traditional retail store partners last year, enhanced our online age-verification, strengthened our retailer compliance and shut down our Facebook and Instagram accounts while working constantly to remove inappropriate social media content generated by others,” the company added. “We also continue to develop technologies to further restrict underage access with our distributors, at retail establishments and as features of potential new products.”
Earlier this month, 22 people in the Midwest were hospitalized with breathing issues linked to vaping.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration sent out warning letters in an effort to stop sales of JUUL and other e-cigarettes to teens, as use of the device among kids under 18 has reached “an epidemic proportion.”
Hosted by Sebastian Maniscalco, the VMAs will air live on MTV from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Monday at 8 p.m. ET.