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Concord congressman calls Juul ‘the worst of the Bay Area’

Concord congressman calls JUUL 'the worst of the Bay Area'

Executives of the SF vaping company appeared the first time before Congress on Thursday


By Catherine Ho - The San Francisco Chronicle

Executives of San Francisco vaping company Juul, appearing for the first time before Congress on Thursday, sought to convince lawmakers the company never meant to market its popular and addictive nicotine products to underage teens.

But their efforts to rehabilitate Juul’s tainted image did little to move some legislators critical of the company’s role in the youth vaping epidemic.

“This is a serious problem, our company has no higher priority” than addressing underage use of Juul products, Juul co-founder and chief product officer James Monsees told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.

Monsees and Juul Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould outlined steps Juul has taken since last year to reduce youth access, including halting the distribution of nicotine “pods” with fruit or other sweet flavors to stores in the United States. And they repeatedly told lawmakers that Juul vapes are meant to help adult cigarette smokers quit combustible cigarettes.

But Democratic members took Juul to task over its previous social media “influencer” marketing tactics targeting young people — which the company has since ended — and a now-defunct program in which Juul paid several schools to conduct teen vaping prevention sessions. The schools program drew widespread criticism that it was inappropriate for a vaping company to provide such curricula.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, had perhaps the sharpest rebuke of the company.

“You, sir, are an example to me as the worst of the Bay Area,” DeSaulnier said to Monsees. “You don’t ask for permission, you ask for forgiveness. You’re nothing but a marketer of poison and your target has been young people.”

Monsees appeared to not know all the details about a San Francisco ballot measure Juul is sponsoring that would overturn the city’s recent ban on the sale of e-cigarettes and replace it with regulations authored by the company.

The ballot initiative proposes to be the “comprehensive regulation of vapor products” in the city — wording that anti-tobacco advocates say would allow the 

sale of fruit- and candy-flavored e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, which San Franciscans voted in 2018 to ban — back onto store shelves. Juul has said the measure would not allow flavored products back on the market, and pointed to new regulations it would enact, including limits on bulk vape sales and requirements for stores to have additional age-verification technology.

“Your ballot measure would preempt local public health laws, barring local bodies from protecting their communities,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “Do you believe Juul knows what is best for local communities better than the communities themselves?”

Monsees replied that he was not familiar enough with the details of the law to comment.

“You piqued my interest,” he said. “I’m going to investigate this with my team afterward.”

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