E-cigarette maker Juul settled a lawsuit over its practice of targeting teens through social media, parties and models – here’s why the company is paying $438.5 million to dozens of states

In early September 2022, electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs – the face of the vaping epidemic among teenagersagreed to pay US$438.5 million to 33 states.

The settlement concludes a two-year bipartisan investigation into the e-cigarette maker’s marketing and sales practices for its vaping products. Those states claimed that Juul marketed its addictive nicotine products to adolescents. The company had previously settled suits with four other states.

As part of the settlement, Juul has also agreed to limit marketing and sales practices that may appeal to adolescents. In addition, the company faces pending lawsuits by nine other states and hundreds of claims on behalf of teenagers who want to hold Juul responsible for their nicotine addiction.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration stated that e-cigarette use, or “vaping,” among youths had reached “epidemic proportions.” Juul’s arrival coincided with massive increases in vaping among teenagers.

Though Juul is just one type of e-cigarette in a field of vaping products, its sales comprised 70% of the market at the end of 2017. Juul quickly dominated after its launch in 2015 because of its discreet design – it is small, concealable and resembles a USB thumb drive device – as well as its high-nicotine concentration and range of flavors. The 33 states that are party to the suit claimed that the company’s aggressive and targeted marketing and sales practices have fueled the uptake in vaping among adolescents.

As a researcher in tobacco control, I use publicly accessible data from social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to capture and describe the marketing practices of companies whose products may directly affect public health. I’ve conducted studies that examined the impact of tobacco marketing on adolescents and young adults.

Juul use among kids has been a research focus of mine since 2016. It was during this time when my colleagues and I found hundreds of Twitter posts describing students sneaking Juul products onto school grounds to use during school hours. The latest settlement marks a small victory for those working to curb Juul use among teenagers.