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Vaping Company Juul Aiming To 'Get Kids Addicted,' Healey Says

Marshfield High School principal Robert Keuther displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students in such places as restrooms or hallways at the school. (Steven Senne/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Marshfield High School principal Robert Keuther displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students in such places as restrooms or hallways at the school. (Steven Senne/AP)

Attorney General Maura Healey has launched an investigation against Juul, the largest vaping company in the country, to determine whether it intentionally markets to minors and whether it tracks underage use of its products.

“Just when teen cigarette use has hit a record low," Healey said in a statement, "juuling and vaping have become an epidemic in our schools with products that seem targeted to get young people hooked on nicotine."

Based on how the e-cigarettes are advertised and flavored, Healey said Juul seems to be following the playbook that cigarette companies wrote more than a generation ago, using cartoon characters like Joe Camel and TV ads featuring the Marlboro Man that hooked youths with a harmful, smelly and expensive habit that might wind up killing them.

"They're engaged in an effort to get kids addicted," Healey claimed in a news conference Tuesday. Many teens who experiment with vaping don't realize they are receiving a dose of highly addictive nicotine, Healey said.

A Juul spokesman says it has never marketed to anyone underage and the company tries to block anyone below the age of 21 from purchasing its products.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with the Massachusetts Attorney General because, we too, are committed to preventing underage use of JUUL. We utilize stringent online tools to block attempts by those under the age of 21 from purchasing our products, including unique ID match and age verification technology," said Matt David, chief communications officer at JUUL Labs. "Furthermore, we have never marketed to anyone underage. In fact, we have done very little marketing relative to our growth."

According to the statement from Healey's office:

The investigation will examine JUUL’s efforts to audit its own website and other online retailers that sell its products to see how effective they are at preventing minors from accessing JUUL or JUUL compatible products. The investigation will also explore what, if anything, JUUL does to stop online retailers that fail to verify a purchaser’s age and prevent minors from purchasing its products or those that are compatible or similar.

Healey's office said vaping one "pod" is equivalent to 200 puffs, or a pack of traditional cigarettes.

“The adolescent brain is uniquely sensitive to nicotine and can become addicted more rapidly and at lower exposure concentrations. The younger a teen starts smoking or vaping, the harder it will be to quit,” Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, director of pediatric research at the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a Harvard Medical School professor, said in a statement.

Healey's office said it has heard from "numerous" school officials about the prevalence of students vaping during class or elsewhere on school grounds.

With reporting by Andy Metzger of State House News Service and the WBUR Newsroom

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