Health groups urge FDA to investigate JUUL for making unauthorized smoking cessation claims
Six leading public health and medical organizations today called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate and take enforcement action against JUUL for making unauthorized claims that the company’s e-cigarettes help users stop smoking.
In a letter to the FDA, the health groups assert that JUUL’s current marketing campaign, which includes newspaper, television and radio ads and website testimonials, makes unauthorized and unproven smoking cessation claims by urging smokers to “make the switch” from cigarettes to JUUL. One highlighted newspaper ad repeats the phrase “Quit. Start Smoking Again” 30 times and concludes with the word "Switch" and then the statement, “The average smokers tries to quit 30 times. Make the switch.”
“The ad clearly communicates the message that by switching to JUUL, the smoker can achieve what he/she has previously been unable to achieve: quitting smoking. It is, unmistakably, a smoking cessation claim for JUUL,” the health groups’ letter states.
The letter was sent by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Truth Initiative.
Federal law prohibits a manufacturer from making a therapeutic claim unless the manufacturer applies to the FDA and demonstrates the product is safe and effective. This is a longstanding law that has effectively protected the public from fraudulent claims. A 2010 federal court ruling and a 2017 FDA rule established that this requirement applies to tobacco products marketed with therapeutic claims, including cessation claims. Like all other consumers, smokers deserve to know what products have been shown to be safe and effective at helping them quit. If JUUL, or any other manufacturer, wants to make a therapeutic claim, they must follow the law.
“JUUL, a product that FDA has found to be largely responsible for the current epidemic of youth usage of highly addictive e-cigarettes, is being advertised and marketed on a massive scale as a smoking cessation product, without the required review and approval by FDA,” the letter states. “JUUL’s campaign not only creates consumer confusion among smokers, it also may cause non-smokers, particularly youth who already regard JUUL as highly appealing, to mistakenly believe the product is FDA-approved as ‘safe,’ thus leading to greater initiation and continuation of its use."
“We urge FDA to launch a full-scale investigation of all aspects of JUUL’s advertising and marketing to determine the scope of its statutory violations and to take strong enforcement action to sanction the company and bring these violations to an end.”
The health groups’ letter cites numerous examples of JUUL marketing with cessation claims:
- In addition to the print ad cited above, other print ads feature testimonials from longtime smokers who switched to JUUL, with the tagline “Make the switch.” “In each of these ads, switching to JUUL is presented as equivalent to smoking cessation,” the letter states.
- JUUL’s TV ads also feature testimonials from smokers about how they switched to JUUL and stopped smoking cigarettes. In one ad, a man named Patrick states, “I gave the JUUL a real chance and found out I liked it. Found out it really works. The switch was easy. It was a no-brainer really. But now that I look at people who smoke, I’m like, ‘Dude really? You’re still doing that? You know there’s an alternative to that right? You don’t have to do that.’”
- JUUL’s website also features testimonials from users recommending the product as a means to stop smoking by replacing cigarettes with JUUL. A woman named Laura states, “Just replace the cigarette with the JUUL! It really helps to keep some physical habits the first week or two. Just focus on using the JUUL instead of a cigarette.”
- CNBC recently reported that JUUL had established a 17-person team to market its e-cigarettes to insurers and to companies that want to help their employees stop smoking. The leader of this JUUL effort told CNBC that “JUUL is planning to design a program to help smokers switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes.”
The health groups assert that a disclaimer on JUUL’s website, which states that “JUUL is a switching product” and “not intended to be used as cessation products,” is insufficient to overcome the cessation claims in JUUL’s ads. “Calling JUUL a ‘switching product’ in a website disclaimer (a disclaimer that does not appear in JUUL ads) does nothing to dispel the health-related message inherent in JUUL's repeated equation of ‘switching’ with quitting smoking,” the letter states.