At a recent congressional hearing, James Monsees, Juul co-founder, defended his e-cigarette start-up by saying that the company never intended for minors to use its products, while still acknowledging that the company made some missteps. He and Juul’s chief administrative office, Ashley Gould, were called in to testify.
Monsees said that Juul “never wanted any non-nicotine users, and certainly not anyone underage. We’ve certainly made missteps. I understand the criticism of some of our past actions, but we moved on very quickly.”
Juul tried to present its product as meant for adult smokers, and not for underage persons and non-smokers. But still, e-cigarettes are marketed in such a way to appear as ways for people to get their dose of nicotine, without all the negative health hazards associated with regular cigarettes and similar tobacco products.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif. addressed Monsees: “I want to tell you, I’ve been involved in public health for a long time in the Bay Area. You, sir, are an example to me of the worst of the Bay Area. You don’t ask for permission, you ask for forgiveness. You’re nothing but a marketer of a poison, and your target is young people.”
Juul sold 35% of its stake to Marlboro-cigarette maker Altria last year, so the connection to Big Tobacco becomes even harder to disprove. Even so, Monsees tried to distance the company: “Put simply, Juul Labs isn’t Big Tobacco. We are here to eliminate its product, the cigarette,” and then added: “I consider traditional big tobacco company as a major investor in our company.”
According to a federal study, approximately 3 million teens – nearly 21% high school students – were vaping. Regulators are calling this an “epidemic.”
When confronted with this, Juul’s Kevin Burns said: “First of all, I’d tell them that I’m sorry that their child’s using the product. It’s not intended for them. I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them. As a parent of a 16-year-old, I’m sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges they’re going through.”