Executives at Juul Labs Inc ignored early signs that their products were hooking teenagers, according to a Reuters investigation published Tuesday.
Juul managers reportedly knew that young people were attracted to their products shortly after they went on sale in 2015 when teenagers called in asking where they could buy the device, a former company manager told Reuters. This sparked an internal dispute between executives who wanted to take action to reduce youth sales and others who said the company was not responsible for young people becoming addicted to the product, the manager said.
According to Reuters, the manager said that executives recognized the economic benefits of having young people addicted to their product.
“Clearly, people internally had an issue with it,” the manager said, referencing the teenager sales. “But a lot of people had no problem with 500 percent year-over-year growth.”
The early goal of Juul was to develop a better e-cigarette for users, as previous e-cigarette consumers complained that the product did not provide enough nicotine and the flavor was harsh. The company then created flavors that congressional investigators and health advocates have argued targeted young people.
Two researchers also told Reuters they cautioned the founders and top company scientists about the potential for youth e-cigarette addiction.
Chenyue Xing, a former Juul scientist, told the newswire the company had tossed ideas around on limiting the amount of nicotine that could be consumed, by shutting down the device for a half-hour or after a specific number of puffs. But the company never created a product based on reducing nicotine intake, she said.
Juul declined to comment to Reuters on why these concepts were never implemented. The company said it was not its intention to target young consumers and that it needed to “earn back the trust of regulators, policymakers, key stakeholders and society at large.”
Juul maintained it “reacted to the information that it had, and increased its youth prevention measures as more data came out over the years.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told Juul in September it violated the law by marketing its products as less harmful than cigarettes. The CEO of the company, Kevin Burns, stepped down amid the controversy later that month.
A mysterious lung illness has plagued more than 1,800 people, with probable links to vaping, and at least 34 people have died. President Trump has also taken aim at the industry by proposing to ban all nontobacco e-cigarette flavors.
A September survey found more than 1 in 4 high schoolers reported using e-cigarettes in the last month, according to the FDA.
The Hill has reached out to Juul for comment.