EDITORIAL: Juul settlement sign of things to come

Jul. 15—It is time to hold electronic cigarette marketers accountable for how they do business and the damage their business does. A recent settlement may be the beginning of putting nicotine merchants on the hook for getting kids hooked.

E-cigarette giant Juul Labs Inc. will pay $40 million to North Carolina and take more action to prevent underage use and sales, according to a landmark legal settlement announced at the end of June. The settlement is likely the leading edge of a wave to come after years of accusations that Juul had fueled an explosion in teen vaping.

"This win will go a long way in keeping Juul products out of kids' hands, keeping its chemical vapor out of their lungs, and keeping its nicotine from poisoning and addicting their brains," North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement.

We have acknowledged that e-cigarettes have done some good in helping long-term smokers stop smoking tobacco cigarettes. But that good can't diminish the risk they pose to young people, who have been targets of marketing painting the devices as benign, flavorful and trendy.

Juul and other manufacturers' seeming focus on the youth market is deeply dangerous and has been implicated in an uptick in teen nicotine abuse. They have used flavors and colors enticing to young people and have even used social media influencers to reach a younger audience without drawing the negative attention that traditional media advertising can attract.

Worse, studies show many young people who vape end up taking up traditional tobacco.

"It is way past time that Juul is forced to pay a price, however small, for addicting many generations of North Carolina teens to e-cigarettes," said Adam Goldstein, director of Tobacco Intervention Programs at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Further, Goldstein said youth-targeting product design must change: "It's time to stop marketing all tobacco products in ways that appeal to youth. This includes eliminating candy and fruit flavors in all e-cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco products, similar to cigarettes."

Settlement funds are to go toward education programs focused on strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in preventing e-cigarette use among young people. Some of the funds should go to cessation programs designed to help people stop vaping and some are to go toward evidence-based research.

The suit is the first of many from states including California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. In February 2020, attorneys general from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada and Oregon announced that a 39-state coalition had launched a bipartisan investigation into Juul.

Hopefully, this shows what is to come for companies marketing poison to our young people.