Massachusetts is the latest state to crack down on San Francisco-based vape brand Juul, which has so far had a 2020 defined by morale-depleting scandals and costly lawsuits.
Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, filed and publicly announced the suit against Juul and its ex-parent company Pax Labs on Wednesday, alleging the company deliberately targeted minors in its marketing. The suit also alleges that the e-cigarette manufacturers hired Steven Baillie as a temporary in-house art director to produce a tween- and teen-oriented campaign—titled “VaporizEd”—with young, attractive models and celebrities (some of whom were “unsuitably” young and legally underage).
Celebrity influencers tapped to shill the vapes—and their now-defunct fruit-flavored pods—include Disney Channel alumna Miley Cyrus, actress Kristen Stewart, model Cara Delevingne and prodigious fashion writer Tavi Gevinson. Nearly 500 social media influencers were also recruited to sponsor the e-cigarettes.
According to the 66-page complaint, Healey’s office started investigating Juul in 2018 and found that the company had purchased ad space in 2015 (at the beginning of the brand’s launch) on youth-oriented sites. Ads promoting Juul began popping up in June 2015 through early 2016 on sites such as Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network, Seventeen Magazine, College Humor, College Confidential and various educational game sites. The lawsuit also alleges that Juul targeted minors by email starting in summer 2017 and continued to do so until August 2018.
Austin Finan, a spokesperson for Juul, said in a statement that while the company has not yet reviewed the complaint, it “remains focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”
Juul did not respond to Adweek’s request for further comments.
Minnesota, New York, Illinois, Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and the District of Colombia have all sued Juul since the Food and Drug Administration began cracking down on e-cigarettes.
Last year was a particularly trying one for the vape brand, and 2020 has not proven to be any easier on its reputation or finances. On Feb. 10, days before the Massachusetts suit, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro hit Juul with another complaint, alleging that the company misled consumers about health risks and illegally marketed the products to youth. The lawsuit also calls for a statewide ban on all Juul products.
That same day, BuzzFeed News obtained internal communications between Juul employees, all of which indicated that the employee morale at the once-trendy brand was at an “all-time low” after 2019’s numerous headline-making lawsuits from former employees (such as one that reportedly claims the company purposefully sold contaminated pods) and 16% of its staff was laid off in November.
On Feb. 5, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released a 46-page memo detailing Juul’s “pervasive” targeting of eight Native American tribes, pitching discounted and free packs for those who enrolled in 90-day cigarette “switching” programs.
The memo also found that Juul had been marketing to youths outside of the United States.