US regulators are looking into potentially “deceptive marketing” used by e-cigarette brand JUUL Labs that targeted teens, the Wall Street Journal said in a report on Thursday.
The company declined to confirm any investigation, but in a statement said that it ended the short-lived social media campaign and announced new efforts to keep the vaping product out of the hands of adolescents.
The US Federal Trade Commission, which handles consumer product complaints, is investigating the marketing practices and is deciding whether to seek monetary damages, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The report came as Altria, a major shareholder in JUUL, considers a merger with tobacco giant Philip Morris International.
A JUUL spokesperson said that the company will always “fully cooperate” with any government agency or regulator, but would not confirm whether an investigation was under way.
“We have never marketed to youth,” the spokesperson said in an e-mail to reporters. “Our earliest marketing campaign in 2015 was intended for adults in the 25-to-34-year-old demographic and lasted for six months... Nonetheless, we regret that the campaign was executed in a way that was perceived as appealing to minors.”
In addition, the use of paid social media “influencers” to promote the product was tried briefly and abandoned last year, and the company has “exited social media entirely,” the official said.
JUUL had used social media channels to show young adults using the product, but stopped selling flavored products in brick-and-mortar stores, where teens have easier access to its products.
In a statement on Thursday, the company announced new steps “to combat the issue of youth access, appeal and use of vapor products,” while pressing for raising the age limit on smoking products to 21.
The commission declined to comment, but in general does not confirm whether it is investigating a company. All of its investigations are nonpublic.
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