Blumenthal, Tong Align Over Concerns About Vaping Giant Juul
A former and current Connecticut Attorney General are calling for stepped-up FDA scrutiny after a Yale University study was released July 30 tying the hugely popular Juul tobacco vaping system to new health concerns.
US Senator and former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal tweeted the following message after reviewing the Yale study: “If the health risks of vaping & nicotine addiction weren’t clear before, researchers at Yale confirm puffing away on a Juul can harm your health. Flavored pods must be pulled from the shelves. FDA, the time is now to take definitive action.”
On the day of the study’s release, William Weir at Yale News reported that researchers found chemical reactions in flavored liquids of the popular Juul e-cigarette create unexpected chemicals that can irritate users’ airways.
The Yale News report related that researchers focused on acetals, which are chemicals that form when the common flavorant vanillin interacts with alcohols that carry the nicotine and flavors in e-cigarettes. The study focused on various flavors of the Juul refill cartridges, including Crème Brulée, Fruit Medley, and Cool Cucumber.
Led by the lab of Julie Zimmerman, professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale, the study was published July 30 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Study co-author Sven-Eric Jordt at Duke University told Yale News that the research team didn’t expect to find so many additional chemicals formed from vanillin, a compound used for vanilla flavoring. The chemical is banned in traditional cigarettes but allowed in e-cigarettes.
Within 24 hours of the study’s publication, Connecticut launched an investigation into the marketing practices of Juul Labs, becoming the latest state to probe the vaping product manufacturer’s health claims and appeal to young people.
Joining Against Juul
Current State Attorney General William Tong said his probe is part of a national effort to curb youth vaping, which has included congressional hearings, a lawsuit in North Carolina over Juul’s marketing practices, and similar investigations in states such as Massachusetts.
Juul, which launched in 2015, now controls nearly three-quarters of the $3.7 billion-dollar retail market for e-cigarettes. There has been concern about the soaring number of young people taking up vaping.
Last year, one of every five high school students reported vaping in the previous month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many states, including Connecticut, want to determine if Juul has properly limited its marketing to adults, AG Tong said. But Connecticut’s investigation will focus on whether the company is illegally selling its products as smoking-cessation devices.
Juul’s products have never been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to help people quit smoking, and marketing them as cessation devices would be illegal, Mr Tong said.
“They are making the claim that they are helping people quit smoking, and so we are testing that claim,” Connecticut’s AG said. “If that’s your main explanation or excuse, we’d like to know whether it is true or not.”
Juul spokesman Theodore Kwong said the company’s products are not intended to be used to quit nicotine. Instead, he said they are marketed to help adults switch from cigarettes to “an alternative nicotine delivery.”
But during congressional hearings in the days before the Yale study was published — focusing on Juul’s marketing, technology, and business practices — Juul’s co-founder James Monsees testified that his company developed its device and flavor pods for adults who want to stop smoking and “eliminate cigarettes for good.”
AG Tong was joined announcing the latest state action by Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull, who opened the investigation into the company’s health claims. Both said those claims are largely unfounded and that there is mounting evidence to the contrary.
The investigation will build upon a complaint brought by six organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart and Lung Associations, calling on the FDA to investigate Juul’s health claims and promotional practices.
“They’re asking the FDA to take action. We’re not waiting on the federal government. Connecticut is taking action today,” AG Tong said. “We are launching civil investigative demands, essentially subpoenas asking for information from Juul about these claims and marketing efforts so we can get to the bottom of this and protect Connecticut’s children and our families.”
The state is demanding that Juul, which is headquartered in San Francisco, respond to questions and turn over documents no later than September 3.
PROTECT Act Proposed
Earlier this year, Sen Blumenthal and US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) announced the introduction of the bicameral Preventing Opportunities for Teen E-Cigarette and Tobacco Addiction (PROTECT) Act to address the alarming rise in e-cigarette use among youths.
More than 3.6 million youths report using e-cigarettes, including one in five high school students — and one in 20 middle school students, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey. The rate of e-cigarette use among teens has grown dramatically, with up to 37 percent of 12th graders reporting use in the past year, compared to 28 percent in 2017.
This dramatic surge has alarmed public health officials, leading the US Surgeon General, Sen Blumenthal, and Connecticut AG Tong to call the rise in e-cigarette use an “epidemic.”
Sen Blumenthal’s PROTECT Act authorizes $100 million in funding each year for five years for a proactive Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiative to address this alarming trend through funding for enhanced research, grants for states and localities to address this issue in their communities, the development of evidence-based policies, and other critical activities to combat the rise in e-cigarette use among youth.
“Juul and e-cigarette manufacturers are aggressively targeting our nation’s youth, hooking yet another generation on deadly products. Everywhere I go in Connecticut, I hear about the need for more resources to combat and stop this growing epidemic — and for the administration to get serious,” Blumenthal said. “By giving those on the front lines of this fight the tools to prevent teen e-cigarette addiction, we can stop Big Tobacco from stealing the health and well-being of our teens.”
In part to combat the escalating use of e-cigarettes by younger consumers, Connecticut recently raised the legal age to smoke or vape from 18 to 21.
At presstime, Juul had not issued any official response to the Yale study nor included any type of reaction or release in the company's online 'press room.'
Associated Press and Connecticut Mirror content was used in this report.