alec stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

For nearly two decades, smoking rates among all ages were on the decline. Restrictions on marketing, sales, and distribution made it difficult for underage smokers to get their hands on traditional cigarettes, and adults were seeing the benefits of smoking cessation campaigns and education.

But that all changed with the advent of electronic nicotine products, vaping mechanisms, flavored cigarettes, and other devices meant to target smokers with an alternative to traditional cigarettes. Many were first introduced as smoking cessation tools, step-down therapies that could help long-time smokers wean themselves from the habit. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration supported the new technologies at first, viewing electronic cigarettes as a viable smoking cessation plan.

However, as the U.S. Surgeon General announced in early 2019, rather than helping people quit, the devices have enticed a new and younger generation of smokers to take up the habit. With those facts in hand, the surgeon general declared electronic cigarettes use among underage smokers an ongoing national epidemic.

Following that announcement, Congress began examining the tobacco industry’s role in underage smoking. Through hearings, investigations, and new legislation, congressional representatives are looking for ways to address the youth vaping epidemic by curbing unethical marketing practices and other tactics employed by large vaping companies.

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), chair of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, held a hearing to examine Juul’s role in the youth smoking epidemic. The Subcommittee’s investigation went directly to the new and extremely profitable company, Juul, to question its role in what the committee said were increases in the youth nicotine addiction epidemic, marketing to youth, misleading health claims, and new partnerships with traditional tobacco companies.

The committee identified several key takeaways from its investigation, including evidence that Juul targeted schools and downplayed potential adverse health effects to students. A representative from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe testified that Juul targeted Native Americans, stating that the company donated approximately $600,000 to tribal medical professionals to share the vaping device with members and report any useful information to the company. The committee also heard testimony on Juul’s adoption of Big Tobacco marketing tactics to engage new users.

With reports emerging throughout the country suggesting a connection between respiratory conditions and vaping, Congress will likely continue its probe into the regulation and marketing tactics of vaping manufacturers like Juul.