Support the news
Sign up for the CommonHealth newsletter to receive a weekly digest of WBUR’s best health, medicine and science coverage.
Former state Attorney General Martha Coakley is becoming an official employee of the electronic cigarette company Juul.
Coakley has been a partner at the law firm Foley Hoag, where she consulted for Juul.
Now the company says the former AG will work on a government affairs team, focusing on educating people on what Juul is doing to fight underage usage.
"I believe in JUUL Labs' commitment to eliminate combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in our country, and to combat youth usage," Coakley said in a statement. "JUUL has an incredible opportunity to switch adult smokers and I look forward to working with stakeholders from the private and public sectors as we fulfill that mission and prevent youth from ever using vapor products like JUUL."
In 2013, then-Attorney General Coakley and many of her colleagues in other states called on federal regulators to ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors.
The news of Coakley's career move was a shock to some, including Richard Daynard, president of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University.
"Martha Coakley was always one of the good guys," Daynard said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It’s possible in her position that she thinks: OK, I’m the one who’s going to navigate and make this better."
But Daynard says that's unlikely.
"The company she's working for is worth billions of dollars, and the value all comes from their youth market, and she’s going to — whether she likes it or not — end up having to be an apologist and a spin-meister for that," he said. "It’s not a pretty sight."
In December, Altria, the leading U.S. cigarette manufacturer and parent company of Phillip Morris, hedged its bets on the future of nicotine by buying a 35 percent stake in Juul — a $12.8 billion investment.
Juul has also ramped up its lobbying efforts in Washington. The company spent $750,000 on lobbying during the last quarter of 2018 — around three and half times what it spent at the start of that year.
Coakley's move to Juul, which was first reported by Politico, was announced the same day her successor, Maura Healey, was set to give a keynote address at a community forum on vaping in Newton.
Last year, Healey launched an investigation to determine whether Juul intentionally markets to minors and if it tracks underage use of its products.
"They're engaged in an effort to get kids addicted," Healey said in July. She added that many teens who vape don't realize they are inhaling doses of highly addictive nicotine.
In a statement, Healey's spokeswoman Jillian Fennimore said the attorney general's office will continue to investigate Juul's "role in creating this health crisis."
"This announcement has no impact on our efforts to keep young people healthy and safe in Massachusetts," Fennimore said.
The forum Healey will speak at Tuesday is hosted by Newton Public Schools.
"We had made great progress in reducing the number of kids smoking cigarettes over a long period of time," Newton Superintendent David Fleishman told WBUR, "and due to vaping and e-cigarettes, that trend is starting to be reversed."
In December, a national study showed a dramatic spike in the number of teens who vape.
“E-cigarette use by youth and young adults is really a public health epidemic right now," Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, told WBUR after the study's release.
Some say it's time for companies like Juul to take proactive steps to address teen vaping. Dr. Michael Siegel, a researcher and professor at Boston University's School of Public Health, says Juul shouldn't wait for regulators to reach decisions.
"Juul needs to do something to try to keep these products out of the hands of youth and they need to take some serious action. And I hope that [Coakley] can help figure out what would help to stem the tide of this epidemic," Siegel said in a phone interview Tuesday.
He added Juul should consider ridding its products of "very addictive" nicotine salts and making them available only in establishments for people over 21.
With reporting by WBUR's Benjamin Swasey and the WBUR Newscast Unit
This segment aired on April 2, 2019.
Support the news