- In a surprise visit, representatives from the Food and Drug Administration showed up at the headquarters of Silicon Valley e-cig startup Juul and seized “thousands of pages of documents.”
- The FDA has not yet released details on the visit, but the agency is currently running an investigation into whether or not the startup marketed its products to teens.
- Valued recently at $15 billion, Juul has also faced a growing backlash of lawsuits and investigations related to its public health impacts on young people.
Federal representatives recently surprised the staff of Silicon Valley e-cig startup Juul by showing up unannounced to its headquarters in San Francisco.
During the visit to the five-story warehouse in the city’s industrial Dogpatch neighborhood, Food and Drug Administration employees seized “thousands of pages of documents,” CNBC reported on Tuesday.
The agency is currently in the middle of an investigation into whether the startup – recently valued at $15 billion – marketed its sleek vaping devices to teens.
In a statement provided to CNBC, the agency said it was seeking “further documentation related to Juul’s sales and marketing practices, among other things.”
The visit comes on the heels of the FDA’s recent announcement that it would crack down on e-cigarette manufacturers, asking them to submit plans to address the illegal use of their products among minors.
The surprise FDA visit also comes weeks after Juul co-founder and chief product officer James Monsees spoke on the main stage at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference, one of the world’s largest gatherings for tech startups.
“Juul products are as safe as the FDA allows them to be,” Monsees said during the event.
A growing backlash from public health experts and the FDA
- California Department of Public Health
In April, the FDA launched an investigation into Juul’s marketing practices to see if the company targeted teens.
“Widespread reports of youth use of Juul products are of great public health concern and no child or teenager should ever use any tobacco product,” the agency wrote in a letter to the company, adding, “Juul products may have features that make them more appealing to kids and easier to use, thus causing increased initiation and/or use among youth.”
Since then, Juul has met with the FDA and shared “over 50,000 pages” of documents with the agency, Juul CEO Kevin Burns said in an emailed statement provided to Business Insider.
“The meetings last week with FDA gave us the opportunity to provide information about our business from our marketing practices to our industry-leading online age-verification protocols to our youth prevention efforts. It was a constructive and transparent dialogue,” Burns said.
Since April, Juul consumers have also filed several lawsuits against the company –most of them on behalf of teens– for what they allege are deceptive marketing practices that didn’t clearly outline how addictive nicotine is.
Then in June, voters in San Francisco approved a ban on flavored tobacco products that includes Juul cartridges, called Juul Pods.
“Most scientists believe flavorings are used to target teenagers into becoming users,” Ana Rule, a professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University and an author of a study on e-cigs and teens, told Business Insider.
“There are of course many other factors such as marketing and peer-pressure, but when you look at the flavoring names, one has to wonder,” Rule said.
San Francisco has led the nation with similar types of initiatives in the past, such as its 2007 ban on plastic bags, which went statewide in 2014 and has since been copied in 13 other US cities.
Also this summer, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey launched a probe to find out whether Juul had marketed its products directly to young people in a way that could violate consumer protections in the state.
And in September, Israel – a country that Juul had plans to expand in – became the first nation to ban Juul devices entirely.
“Just when teen cigarette use has hit a record low, Juuling and vaping have become an epidemic in our schools with products that seem targeted to get young people hooked on nicotine,” Healey said in a statement. “I am investigating Juul … to keep these highly addictive products out of the hands of children.”
Burns said that is also something that Juul hopes to help with in the future.
“We want to be part of the solution in preventing underage use, and we believe it will take industry and regulators working together to restrict youth access,” said Burns.
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