LOS ANGELES — E-cigarette firm Juul has agreed to pay $22.5 million in a US lawsuit that alleged the company deliberately targeted teenagers and lied about how addictive its products are, Washington state's attorney general said Wednesday.
The company, whose wide range of exotic flavored vapes -- including mango and creme brulee -- made it a byword for e-cigarettes in the United States, did not admit any wrongdoing but agreed to rein in its advertising.
In the latest such multi-million-dollar suit it has settled with a US state, Juul Labs agreed to pull commercials that appeal to young people, including on social media. It will also work to ensure stores in the state are not selling its products to anyone underage.
"Juul put profits before people," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who brought the suit in 2020.
"The company fueled a staggering rise in vaping among teens. Juul’s conduct reversed decades of progress fighting nicotine addiction.
"Today’s order compels Juul to surrender tens of millions of dollars in profit and clean up its act by implementing a slate of corporate reforms."
A Juul spokesperson told AFP, "this settlement is another step in our ongoing effort to reset our company and resolve issues from the past. We support the Washington State Attorney General’s plan to deploy resources to address underage use, such as future monitoring and enforcement."
This official added: "The terms of the settlement are consistent with our current business practices and past agreements to help combat underage use while offering adult smokers access to our products as they transition away from combustible cigarettes.”
E-cigarettes heat up a cartridge of liquid containing nicotine and other toxins into an aerosol. The user inhales the resulting vapor, mimicking traditional cigarettes.
Proponents of vaping say it is less harmful that traditional tobacco, though the science is not clear. The World Health Organization says using neither is the best course of action.
Opponents say the sweet-tasting flavors are appealing to young people, and the companies peddling them are -- knowingly or otherwise -- getting a whole new generation of people hooked on nicotine.
Washington's suit claimed Juul "flooded social media with colorful ads of young-looking models in fun poses that mimicked many of Big Tobacco’s ad campaigns.
"At the same time, Juul pushed fruit and dessert flavored products such as mango and crème brulee."
By the end of 2018, Juul had more than 70 percent of the US market for e-cigarettes.
"Much of this was due to its popularity with teens, evidenced by the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes among teenagers," the attorney general said.
Until 2018, Juul's packaging did not disclose that products contained nicotine, the suit said, despite their having up to five times the level found in similar products.
The settlement announced Wednesday is the latest to involve a lawsuit claiming Juul was marketing its products to children.
Last year, it agreed to pay Arizona $14.5 million and pledged not to target youngsters in the state. Months earlier it said it would pay North Carolina $40 million, but dd not admit liability.
The company is facing similar suits by other states, including New York and California, Bloomberg News reported.
© Agence France-Presse
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