Juul Bought Ads Appearing on Cartoon Network and Other Youth Sites, Suit Claims

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Puff Bars and other disposable e-cigarette products on a store shelf in New York on Jan. 26, 2020. Food and Drug Administration police allows mint, dessert and fruit flavors to continue to be sold in disposable e-cigarettes, prompting many teens to switch from Juul to those devices. (Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times)

Sheila Kaplan

c.2020 The New York Times Company

 

Juul Labs, the vaping company that has long insisted it never marketed its products to teenagers, purchased ad space in its early days on numerous youth-focused websites, including those of Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, Seventeen magazine and educational sites for middle school and high school students, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Massachusetts attorney general.

The suit, brought against Juul by the state’s attorney general, Maura Healey, presents some of the starkest evidence to date that the company was targeting young nonsmokers during its launch period, from June 2015 through early 2016.

Juul executives declined immediate comment on the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Juul rejected an initial marketing proposal by a marketing firm it had hired, Cult Collective, that would have branded it as a technology company with a target audience of adult smokers. The proposal that was rejected featured images of outdated technology like clunky telephones and joysticks, with a picture of a Juul device and the words, “Smoking Evolved.”

Instead, the lawsuit says, Juul dropped the Cult Collective, and hired an in-house interim art director to produce “Vaporized,” the youth-oriented campaign, featuring beautiful models in provocative poses.

“Juul decided against doing an ad campaign designed for an older audience and instead specifically chose one that targeted young people,” Healey said. “The information that we uncovered in our investigation demonstrates Juul’s intent — they didn’t accidentally create an advertising campaign with young and attractive people — that’s what they were going for all along.”

The 66-page complaint includes images of young models that it claims were displayed in digital ads on websites, mobile apps and social media. It includes an extensive list of sites where Juul products were promoted that the lawsuit says were clearly aimed at teenagers and even younger children.

The lawsuit charges that Juul attempted to recruit celebrities and social media influencers with large numbers of underage followers, such as Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, Kristen Stewart, and social media influencers Luka Sabbat and Tavi Gevinson.

It also claims that Juul shipped electronic cigarettes to consumers who gave student email addresses at high schools.