NEW YORK -- A rally was held in front of Juul's New York City office Tuesday as protesters condemned what they call a multi-billion-dollar campaign to hook kids on flavored tobacco products.
They are demanding that the City Council restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes.
In July, New York City students testified at a congressional hearing that Juul representatives went into their classrooms and told them their products were "totally safe" despite containing nicotine.
According to the CDC's National Youth Tobacco Survey, during the one-year period between 2017 and 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students increased by 78 percent.
Over 3 million high school students are said to have used e-cigarettes in 2018, and more than 80 percent of kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product.
The proposed City Council bills will crack down on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes.
In California, a new lawsuit was filed Monday against Juul Labs on behalf of a 19-year-old man who says he became addicted to nicotine and suffered worsening asthma symptoms after he started using Juul devices when he was 16.
The suit claims Juul and Philip Morris, which recently took a stake in the company, violated the Racketeer Act by illegally marketing the devices to minors.
Vaping has also become popular with older smokers hoping it is more benign than cigarettes and will help them quit, while young people hope the lack of exhaled smoke will make it harder to get caught.
On Friday, the state health departments in New York and New Jersey issued alerts for people who vape, citing severe lung illnesses reported in both states.
"JUUL Labs exists to help adult smokers switch off combustible cigarettes, which are the leading cause of preventable death and contribute to over 28,000 deaths per year in New York," a company spokesperson said in a statement. "We do not want or need new non-nicotine users. Our market is the over 1 billion adult smokers worldwide who should have the opportunity to switch to vapor products if they so desire.
"We have never marketed to youth, do not sell flavors like cotton candy or bubble gum, and strongly advocated for Tobacco 21 legislation here in New York. In November 2018 we stopped selling non-tobacco and non-menthol-based flavors to traditional retail stores, which represented 50% of our revenue at that time. All of our non-traditional tobacco-flavored pods are now exclusively sold through our ecommerce platform, which features an industry-leading, third-party, age-verification system that puts every purchase through a rigorous, multi-step process to ensure that the customer is 21 or older and restricts bulk purchasing. We offer these products in this limited, secure way because they play an important role in helping smokers switch by providing users with a taste and aroma different than traditional tobacco.
"We will continue to lead the industry and support industry-wide actions to reverse the trend in youth use, while preserving this unprecedented opportunity for adult smokers, and we will continue to work with New York policymakers in a transparent and collaborative fashion to achieve that goal."
The company also issued the following statement regarding the school presentation:
"The two student presentations we made were part of our short-lived Education and Youth Prevention Program which was ended in September 2018 after its purpose - to educate youth on the dangers of nicotine addiction - was clearly misconstrued. In November, we launched our industry leading plan to combat youth vaping - we stepped up our advocacy for T21 legislation, we stopped the sale of non-tobacco and non-menthol based flavored JUULPods to our traditional retail store partners, enhanced our online age-verification process, strengthened our retailer compliance program with over 2,000 secret shopper visits per month, and shut down our Facebook and Instagram accounts while working constantly to remove inappropriate social media content generated by others on those platforms. Finally, we continue to develop technologies to further restrict underage access."
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Protesters rally in front of Juul's New York City offices, call for vaping restrictions