Juul had a ‘sophisticated program to enter schools,’ lawmakers say
Juul said in a statement that the campaigns “were part of our short-lived Education and Youth Prevention Program which was ended in September 2018 after its purpose — to educate youth on the dangers of nicotine addiction — was clearly misconstrued.”
The company’s chief administrative officer, Ashley Gould, testified at a congressional hearing Thursday along with Juul’s co-founder and chief product officer, James Monsees.
Six schools received funding, Gould said, before the company ended the program. In a tense exchange at the hearing, Gould was asked by Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi whether she personally believed nicotine was harmful to users.
“Nicotine is an addictive substance,” Gould responded, reading from her notes. “In the (US Food and Drug Administration’s) own words, nicotine does not directly cause the estimated 480,000 deaths each year from smoking-related disease, and our product was designed to give — “
“So nicotine is not harmful, is that what you’re saying?” Krishnamoorthi interrupted.
“I didn’t say that,” replied Gould.
She pointed again to the FDA’s statement, to which Krishnamoorthi replied, “I know what the FDA says. I’m asking you. Do you believe nicotine is harmful?”
“I think FDA is the better source for that answer,” Gould said.
Juul sought tens of thousands of influencers, documents show
In a letter to the committee, however, the company “pointed to only four influencers” and said it did not have “a traditional celebrity or influencer program,” according to Democratic Rep. Katie Hill. Asked under oath about the potential discrepancy, Monsees said “it sounds like we’re getting into territory I’m not completely familiar with,” adding that he would look into it.
Asked by CNN about the conflicting numbers, a Juul spokesman said the number given to the committee — four influencers — only reflected those who were paid.
When asked if other influencers were compensated in different ways, the Juul spokesman said “several years ago, we reached out to existing adult users of JUUL Products, offering them discounts if they agreed to our terms of service which includes a prohibition on promoting our products to underage users.”
‘A marketer of poison’
Throughout the hearing, Democrats unloaded on Monsees, the Juul co-founder, while some Republican lawmakers defended his company.
“Followed the law, developed a product that people want, a product that’s gonna take us away from more harmful traditional cigarettes, a product that can actually help you phase off of using nicotine altogether, and somehow you’re a terrible guy,” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said to Monsees.
Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, looking directly at the executive, saw it differently.
“You don’t ask for permission, you ask for forgiveness,” he said. “You’re nothing but a marketer of a poison, and your target has been young people.”