Oklahoma Receives Nearly $9 Million In Settlement With Juul Labs

News 9 - September 8, 2022 12:19 pm

TULSA, Okla. – 

Oklahoma is getting nearly $9 million as part of a settlement with Juul Labs. Thirty-four states sued the vape manufacturer over its advertisements aimed at young people.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said JUUL targeted a younger audience through social media, free samples, advertisements featuring young, trendy-looking models, and youth-inspired flavors.

“[The company] is focused on flavors that are more attractive to younger users like fruity flavors. Bubblegum flavors, that kind of thing rather than the traditional tobacco flavors,” said Ethan Shaner, Oklahoma Deputy Attorney General for the Consumer Protection Unit.

“This is a monumental settlement,” said Julie Bisbee, TSET.

Oklahoma leaders said JUUL rose to the dominant e-cigarette manufacturer by marketing to people who aren’t old enough to buy the product.

“One in four young people report using a vapor product in the last 30 days,” said Bisbee.

“It’s something that’s really risen to epidemic proportions,” said Thomas Larson, TSET. “Ninety percent of the cigarette smokers out there started before they were 18 and you’re seeing a similar trend with vaping.”

“What it really did is create a public health and addiction crisis among young people,” said Shaner. “It’s going to take a lot to undo some of the harm that’s been done. There will still be a lot of public health measures that will need to be implemented in the coming years to try to undo the damage that’s been done, but I think this is a good first step.”

“[The Tobacco Industry] is the leading cause of preventable death in our state. It adds to disability, premature death. We are celebrating fewer birthdays with the people we love because an industry that profits off of addiction is making money on our people. And so, this lawsuit is really another way that we can demonstrate that these industries do not have your best interest in mind. These industries are set up to addict and make profit,” said Bisbee.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said a two-year, multi-state investigation found JUUL targeted a younger audience. Its age verification techniques were ineffective.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust said JUUL’S packaging is misleading when it comes to the amount of nicotine and should not be used to quit smoking.

“Vapor products are highly addictive. They’re usually flavored. Very smooth. Easy to consume,” said Bisbee.

“Vaping aerosols have been shown to contain things like arsenic, heavy metals like nickel and lead. Those are not things that you want to be inhaling deep into your lungs,” said Larson. “These vaping products are designed to keep you addicted to nicotine. So, they are not a cessation device.”

The settlement includes a list of advertising limitations and banning JUUL from things like youth marketing, providing free samples, using cartoons, paid influencers and paid product placement, branded apparel, and billboards.

“There’s a ban on product placement, so JUUL will not be able to pay for its products or its brand name to show up in television shows or in music, video games, social media platforms,” said Bisbee. “You won’t see JUUL branded sweatshirts, hoodies, t-shirts, backpacks.”

The agreement also includes sales and distribution restrictions, including where the product may be displayed in stores, online and retail sales limits, age verification on all sales, and a retail compliance check protocol.

Shaner said right now, there are no concrete plans for the money, which would be paid out over a period of six to ten years.

“The Attorney General is interested in putting towards educating youth against the harms of vaping generally,” said Shaner. “The parties will get together over the coming weeks to try to finalize documents. The settlement will take the form of a consent judgement that will be filed in an Oklahoma court, and it will be enforceable by an Oklahoma court.”

TSET would like to see strict licensing for vapor retailers to better enforce existing laws, as well as tacking on more than the flat regular sales tax.

“Under Oklahoma law, tobacco retailers are required to have their own tobacco retail license. There is no similar license for vaping products, so anyone with a store can start selling vaping products. We don’t know where all the vaping retailers are and of course that makes enforcement more complicated,” said Larson. “Vaping products also do not have any kind of tobacco tax associated with it. It’s just the flat regular sales tax. We know that youth are very price sensitive and if a product is more expensive, youth are gonna be less likely to pick it up and start using it.”

Full list from settlement that Juul has agreed to refrain from, according to the AG’s office:

  1. Youth marketing
  2. Funding education programs
  3. Depicting persons under age 35 in any marketing
  4. Use of cartoons
  5. Paid product placement
  6. Sale of brand name merchandise
  7. Sale of flavors not approved by FDA
  8. Allowing access to websites without age verification on landing page
  9. Representations about nicotine not approved by FDA
  10. Misleading representations about nicotine content
  11. Sponsorships/naming rights
  12. Advertising in outlets unless 85 percent audience is adult
  13. Advertising on billboards
  14. Public transportation advertising
  15. Social media advertising (other than testimonials by individuals over the age of 35, with no health claims)
  16. Use of paid influencers
  17. Direct-to-consumer ads unless age-verified, and
  18. Free samples.

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