Lawmakers focus on Juul’s role in teen vaping surge

Testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday painted e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs Inc. as a calculating, ruthless company that continues to target impressionable children, despite claims that it’s trying to curb youth access to its products.

Physicians and members of an advocacy group against teen vaping testified in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.

“We’re hoping to give voice to the families whose lives have been upended by the predatory practices of Juul, also known as Tobacco 2.0,” Meredith Berkman, co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes (PAVE), said in an interview with NBC News before Wednesday’s hearing began.

Berkman and others on the panel suggested that Juul’s marketing practices on Instagram and other social media platforms targeted young people, and that flavors such as mango and mint were appealing to kids. What’s more, Juul pods’ sleek design has allowed kids and teenagers to hide their vaping from parents, they said.

The devices emit very little visible vapor, don’t smell like typical cigarettes and look just like computer flash drives.

“It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent if you don’t know your kid is Juuling. It’s stealth by design,” Berkman said during her testimony.

Teen vaping has surged in popularity in recent years. In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 78 percent increase in high school students using electronic cigarettes from 2017 to 2018, and an almost 50 percent increase among middle school students.

“Every one of my teenage patients — and even many of my preteen patients — either uses e-cigarettes or has friends who use them,” Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in his testimony.

Indeed, teenagers consistently say they have friends who vape, or have struggled with addiction themselves, including Philip Fuhrman, 16. Fuhrman’s mother, Dorian, is another PAVE co-founder.