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In Washington, Juul Vows to Curb Youth Vaping. Its Lobbying in States Runs Counter to That Pledge.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — For months, Juul Labs has had a clear, unwavering message for officials in Washington: The e-cigarette giant is committed to doing all it can to keep its hugely popular vaping products away from teenagers.

But here in Columbia, the South Carolina capital, and in statehouses and city halls across the country, a vast, new army of Juul lobbyists is aggressively pushing measures that undermine that pledge.

The company’s 80-plus lobbyists in 50 states are fighting proposals to ban flavored e-cigarette pods, which are big draws for teenagers; pushing legislation that includes provisions denying local governments the right to adopt strict vaping controls; and working to make sure that bills to discourage youth vaping do not have stringent enforcement measures.

Though Juul supports numerous state bills that would raise the legal age for buying vaping and tobacco products to 21, some of those bills contain minimal sanctions for retailers. Others fine only the clerks and not the owners for violations.

“Juul is attempting to rehabilitate its public image by posing as a public health advocate while working behind the scenes to weaken or defeat tobacco control proposals and prevent communities from even considering policies to curb tobacco use,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, whose network of lobbyists has parried with e-cigarette and tobacco industries in many states this year.

In a statement, Juul said, “We are as committed as ever to combating youth usage but don’t take our word for it — look at our actions.”

The company cited its action plan, unveiled in November, which included shutting down its social media accounts, discontinuing sales of many flavored pods in retail stores and strengthening its online age verification systems.

E-cigarettes allow smokers to inhale the nicotine they crave without the toxins that come from burning tobacco. But Juul’s sleek devices, which resemble a flashdrive, became immensely popular with teenagers, stoking worries that the devices were creating a new generation of nicotine addicts among people who have never smoked.

Juul denies marketing to young people, and it has revamped its website to focus on adult smokers. But as it faces serious regulatory threats from the Trump administration, as well as targeting by state and city lawmakers, the company has quickly built an enormous lobbying machine to protect its turf as best it can. With the recent departure of Scott Gottlieb, a vociferous critic of Juul, from the post of F.D.A. commissioner, the company’s more urgent battles, for now, are in the states.

Most of Juul’s state lobbyists work for well-connected firms run by ex-governors, former state lawmakers and big political donors, public records show. Some are in-house, based in the growing number of offices the company is opening around the country. The company’s latest star hire is Martha Coakley, the former attorney general of Massachusetts. (The state’s current attorney general, Maura Healey, is investigating whether Juul intentionally targeted its vaping products to minors.)

In a series of interviews, Lindsay Andrews, a spokeswoman for Juul, said the lobbyists were primarily focused on raising the minimum age for buying e-cigarette and traditional tobacco products to 21 from 18, or in a few states, 19. More than 400 local governments and 14 states have already done so, eight of the states this year.

But in numerous states, the proposals that Juul publicly supports, known as Tobacco 21, or T21, contain measures that public health experts consider poison pills.

Juul says it prefers that T21 legislation does not have added provisions. But it worked to help pass a T21 law in the Arkansas Legislature, for example, that would also block local governments from enacting new rules regarding the manufacture, sale, storage or distribution of tobacco and vaping products — including restrictions on flavored products.

For related reasons, public health advocates have opposed Juul-backed T21 bills in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia. The tobacco industry supported the T21 bills.

In some states Juul’s advocacy is public, and in others the company is barely visible, working only through the Vapor Technology Association, or by relying on Altria, the tobacco company that late last year paid Juul $12.8 billion for a 35 percent stake.

In South Carolina, for example, Juul has not taken a public position on a contentious proposal to pre-empt local governments from banning flavored e-cigarettes or otherwise regulating any tobacco product. But at a hearing on the bill last month, Brian Flynn, one of Juul’s three lobbyists with McGuireWoods Consulting, a firm run by the former governor James H. Hodges, testified in favor of the pre-emption plan.

At the hearing, Mr. Flynn introduced himself as a lobbyist for both Juul and the South Carolina Association of Convenience Stores. He noted that on the matter of pre-emption, he spoke only for the retailers.

Critics did not see much of a distinction.

“This is too cute by half,” said Pamela Gilbert, a lawyer and a former executive director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Juul must know their lobbyist is lobbying for the pre-emption bill, and Juul must have approved that. If Juul really didn’t want to be connected to the support for that bill, Juul should hire another lobbyist.”

Some of the so-called pre-emption measures around the country were written using model language from the Vapor Technology Association, according to Kinn Elliott, a V.T.A. lobbyist who recently joined the association from Juul. Other pre-emption bills, in whole or in part, have been drafted with language from lobbyists for Altria and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, has a potent lobbying network in Washington and around the country. Asked if Altria was advising Juul’s state lobbying efforts, or if the two related businesses were working together, an Altria spokesman, David Sutton, replied that there was no contractual service agreement by which Altria would assist Juul’s government affairs. He added that he did not know what informal conversations on state lobbying issues might have taken place.

“I just don’t know, I’m not on the ground,” Mr. Sutton said. “Is there a conversation between the Altria government affairs people and the Juul government affairs people on the ground? I don’t know.”

He declined to provide access to Altria employees who could answer the question. Juul also declined to answer the question.

But Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has been involved in many of these state battles, said, “It’s hard to say where Altria ends and Juul begins.”

So far, Juul’s state and local efforts have had mixed success. In Sacramento, Juul tried to head off a proposal to ban the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products in the city, as San Francisco did last year.

Steve Hansen, the councilman who wrote the bill, met with two Juul lobbyists in early March to hear their alternative plan. They were pushing a plan that would ban only flavors that are “knowingly attractive to minors.” The City Council rejected Juul’s proposal and on April 16 passed Mr. Hansen’s plan.

Mr. Hansen said he was surprised by the intensity of the lobbying effort.

“In my six years on the City Council I’ve never seen the number of money, lobbyists and Astroturfing we’ve seen here on anything else,” he said.

Ms. Andrews, the Juul spokeswoman, said the effort was important because flavored e-cigarette pods were critical to help smokers switch to vaping.

“In our studies of thousands of Juul users, people who exclusively used nontobacco flavors were 30 percent more likely to switch than those who use tobacco flavors,” she said. “While we do not and will not sell flavors which are clearly targeted to youth, we also understand that flavors that drive adults from cigarettes have the potential to appeal to youth.”

One afternoon last month, Mr. Flynn and another Juul lobbyist, Darrell Campbell, milled about under the South Carolina Statehouse dome, awaiting the fate of a bill that would restrict youths’ access to vape shops.

That legislation, written by State Representative Beth Bernstein, a Democrat, bars anyone under age 18 from going into vape shops without an adult. It also prohibits vaping on school property. But at Juul’s request, Ms. Bernstein took out a provision that would have required an adult to sign for online deliveries of any e-cigarette products ordered online.

In an interview, Ms. Bernstein said that Mr. Flynn and Mr. Campbell were helpful in providing input for the bill, as was Juul’s in-house lobbyist, Jennifer Cunningham.

“They had a little heartburn with it because they felt they were already employing a robust process for verification,” she said. “Juul came to me and said, ‘We already employ a very robust measure to make sure the person purchasing online is over 18.’”

The bill passed, and Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, is expected to sign it.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network opposed the legislation, saying it did not go far enough.

“This bill is like putting lipstick on a pig,” said Cathy Callaway, state and local campaign director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “We don’t need cosmetic fixes, we need proven policies and strong tobacco retailer enforcement to prevent illegal sales to kids.”

Katrina F. Shealy, a Republican senator who supported the bill, said: “I have talked to the people from Juul. They want this.”

Ms. Shealy also said that Juul had spoken to her about bringing a manufacturing plant to her district. “They are looking at locations and one of them is in my district; 825 jobs,” she said. “That’s a lot of jobs.”

McConnell plan to hike the smoking age could be a win for tobacco companies Public health officials see a ‘Trojan Horse’ behind support for the age 21 sales limit.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push to raise the legal smoking age to 21 sounds like a victory for public health. But anti-tobacco advocates fear McConnell and the tobacco industry may use the bill to block other, more proven measures to reduce youth smoking.

McConnell pledged last week to introduce legislation to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, calling it a “top priority” when the Senate returns from recess in late April. The move quickly drew surprising enthusiasm from cigarette and vaping manufacturers, who pledged to throw their considerable weight behind his initiative.

But in some states, legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco-related products has supplanted flavor bans, which would cut into the profits of industry giants like Altria and Juul. The industry-backed bills also have halted broader pushes to bar menthol cigarettes or boost state taxes enough to dissuade potential smokers. Some would even exempt tobacco products that aren’t yet on the market.

“They are turning these tobacco 21 bills into Trojan horses,” said John Schachter, director of state communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “The industry is positioning tobacco 21 as the only thing that needs to be done on tobacco prevention,” but “tobacco 21 needs to be a complement” to other measures, he said.

A McConnell spokesperson said only that his bill is still being drafted and will be introduced next month. She did not respond when asked whether McConnell would also back higher taxes and flavor bans.

Tobacco and e-cigarette giants like Altria have lobbied against raising taxes on tobacco and banning flavored products popular with teens, which the Centers for Disease Control say would have a bigger impact in reducing teen smoking and vaping.

When family medicine professor Rob Crane heard about McConnell’s announcement, “the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I said, ‘This is really terrible,'” said Crane, a professor at Ohio State University and president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.

Crane fears McConnell’s bill will dovetail with tobacco lobbying, which has aimed to alter state bills by inserting weak enforcement mechanisms, prohibiting local restrictions on flavored products and heading off increased taxes.

Twelve states have passed laws that raise the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21. But some of them ignore anti-smoking measures that advocates say are most effective.

An Arkansas bill for example, prevents cities and counties from enacting stricter regulations like bans on e-cigarette flavors, tougher enforcement or moving the tobacco sales age higher.

In Virginia, a tobacco stronghold and Altria’s home state, a law set to take effect in July with widespread backing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, didn’t provide funds for enforcement and would penalize youth buying cigarettes. Critics argue it could lead to racial profiling.

Similar provisions are tucked into a Texas bill set to soon pass the state legislature with broad bipartisan backing.

Evidence that raising the purchasing age lowers tobacco use is scarce because it’s a relatively new effort, advocates say — while research does show that raising taxes just $1 per package curbs purchases of cigarettes and flavored products with particular appeal to teens. E-cigarette flavors drove a surge in teen use last year, according to CDC data.

In McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, state lawmakers last year raised the cigarette tax by 50 cents, the largest increase in the state’s history, but lower than what public health groups wanted. The final budget bill left out a tax on e-cigarettes.

“We had it in the bill and it mysteriously disappeared on the last day of the session,” said Ben Chandler, a former member of Congress and current president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “We’re still not entirely sure where it went.”

Bans on flavored vapor and on menthol cigarettes, which appeal to younger consumers as well as African Americans, have generated charged debate in places like New York, which passed a package of anti-tobacco bills in 2017 and voted to raise the purchasing age this month. In San Francisco, voters upheld the country’s strictest flavor ban, even after the industry spent $12 million to oppose the referendum.

Tobacco companies “tend to be a lot more focused on the restriction of flavors than on the age of purchase,” said Lisa David, president and CEO of New York-based nonprofit Public Health Solutions. “They fought the flavor bans, they fight hardest on menthol or mint.”

The problem, said the American Heart Association’s Ashley Bell, is that current state tobacco laws “don’t cover the products that are even on the market now, much less the ones that are coming.”

She was referring to Philip Morris International’s IQOS, which heats cigarette tobacco and turns it into a vapor but doesn’t burn it. IQOS is under FDA review, with a likely decision this year.

The sleek, tech-heavy IQOS device has anti-tobacco advocates on high alert. They point to a potential loophole in Rep. Robert Aderholt’s (R-AL) tobacco legislation that could put IQOS into the vaping product category, where it would enjoy laxer marketing restrictions and lower taxes.

At a press conference earlier this month, McConnell offered few details other than that members of the military would be exempt from the new age restrictions. Altria recently hired former aides to McConnell and majority whip John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, to lobby on tobacco issues.

Backers of the bills say they move in the right direction, if not as far as some would wish.

“I think [tobacco companies] are okay with the bill because it is an issue for their image,” said Virginia state Rep. Christopher Stolle, a Republican who sponsored the House legislation. He brushed aside claims that tobacco 21 bills are a decoy. “There’s no Trojan horse in this.”

And an Altria spokesperson told POLITICO that the company advocates for “straightforward tobacco 21 bills and support bills that provide the most viable legislative path” to raising the purchasing age.

Still, lobbying has hampered other efforts to lower overall tobacco addiction and to head off vaping, which the CDC says has wiped out two decades of declines in teen nicotine use.

More ambitious FDA plans to cap nicotine levels, bar flavored cigars and ban menthol cigarettes — rules that could turn off adult smokers but curb addiction — were left unfinished when former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb left the agency this month. Republicans and industry oppose them, leaving questions about what Gottlieb’s successor will do.

Philip Morris International denies that it’s seeking a loophole for IQOS in the Aderholt bill. The company submitted IQOS as a tobacco product that would be subject to the FDA’s usual restrictions, said company spokesperson Corey Henry.

PMI concedes that IQOS has toxicity but claims it reduces dangerous inhalants from the tobacco by 90 percent. It said it will market directly to adults trying to switch.

The device already has been approved in 45 countries, but the FDA is still evaluating two applications from PMI: one for IQOS as a new tobacco product, and another that would mark it as a modified risk product, signaling it is safer than other tobacco on the market. Altria would be the product’s U.S. distributor.

Public health officials aren’t so convinced that IQOS is aimed purely at adults.

“It’s a beautifully designed device,” said Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “They’re selling them in things that look like Apple stores. It’s like everything else the industry does, claiming they’re for adults, but selling them for kids.”

Glantz, after reviewing PMI’s FDA application for IQOS, said he doesn’t believe it is safer than cigarettes, only that it has a different risk profile and unknown effects. Such products keep people in the market who would otherwise quit smoking, he said.

“The underlying issue here is an industry that is built around getting individuals addicted to a known addictive agent — nicotine — and then having them be lifetime consumers of their product,” said Joe Thompson, president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the state’s former surgeon general.

“As a nation, we are at risk of having a whole other generation if not two of going down the same path as their parents,” he said.

How Juul Took a Page From Big Tobacco’s Playbook

“Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, recently invested almost $13 billion in e-cigarette company Juul. Some experts say in its early days Juul mirrored the tobacco industry’s promotional playbook in an effort to hook young people.”

‘We don’t want them in our city’: SF officials seek Juul crackdown

San Francisco officials proposed legislation Tuesday that would ban the sale of e-cigarettes in the city and prohibit e-cigarette companies like Juul from occupying city-owned property in the future.

Two bills authored by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Supervisor Shamann Walton — whose district includes Juul’s corporate headquarters in the Dogpatch neighborhood — are part of several actions the city wants to pursue to crack down on youth vaping in general, and Juul in particular.

Walton said the proposed legislation should also serve as a warning and statement to Juul that “we don’t want them in our city.”

“I don’t eventually want to see them leave this city,” he said. “I would have liked for them to have been gone yesterday.”

One bill that Herrera and Walton introduced at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting would ban the sale and shipment of e-cigarettes to San Francisco stores and customer addresses until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration begins a vetting process known as a pre-market review, in which manufacturers must prove their products are appropriate for public health before selling them on the market.

The city already bans youth-friendly flavors like candy and fruit in tobacco products through Proposition E, which voters passed in 2018. Physical stores are barred from selling them. The bill would ban all e-cigarettes regardless of flavor so long as they contain nicotine, and it would also ban the shipment of such items to private residences in San Francisco.

The second bill would ban companies that sell, manufacture and distribute tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from city property. San Francisco already prohibits tobacco companies from doing business on city property, and this measure would explicitly add e-cigarettes to the existing ban. The proposed bill would not be applied retroactively, so it would not kick Juul out of its current space at Pier 70, but it would prevent e-cigarette companies from leasing city property in the future.

At a Tuesday news conference, city officials blasted the e-cigarette company for what they called “predatory practices” toward young adults, with Juul’s sleek, palm-size vaporizers and pods that evoke tastes like mango, creme and cucumber.

“These companies may hide behind the veneer of harm reduction, but let’s be clear, their product is addiction,” Herrera said. “They’re in the business of getting people addicted, or keeping them addicted.”

Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax said the two bills are a positive step toward “breaking the epidemic” of e-cigarette use in San Francisco.

“The industry is addicting a whole new generation of youth to nicotine,” he said. The proposed legislation is “a major step in preventing that gateway from e-cigarette addition to tobacco use and tobacco addiction. This will save hundreds, if not thousands of lives.”

Aspen hopes to ban all flavored tobacco

The city of Aspen is drafting an ordinance that would ban all flavored tobacco sales within town limits, including menthol cigarettes and many types of chew and vaping products.

City council members expressed full support of the measure, which would not need to go to voters to be enacted, at a work session on Tuesday.

The initiative is being led by Risa Turetsky with Pitkin County Public Health and Dr. Kim Levin, medical officer for the Pitkin County Board of Health. Levin helped pass Aspen’s tobacco retail licence ordinance in 2017, which restricted sales to those over 21 years old and imposed new local taxes.

Levin said flavored tobacco products are a clear manipulation to hook young customers.

“Once a child is addicted to nicotine they are a lifetime customer,” she said.

The measure would be an update to Aspen’s existing retail license regulations, and would affect a handful of businesses in town.

Now that the council has given the go ahead to start working on the ordinance, the city will be reaching out to the relevant vendors in town.

“We will be inviting them to be present at the council meetings where the new ordinance will be introduced, as well as for the public hearing on the topic which will come later this spring,” said CJ Oliver, Aspen’s environmental health and sustainability director.

Neither Aspen gas station convenience store sells any vaping products. A clerk at the Aspen Conoco station said that “wintergreen” is their most popular Skoal smokeless tobacco flavor and that they also sell a variety of flavored cigarillos. Both products would likely be banned from the shelves under the proposed ordinance.

The law would be based off one passed in San Francisco that includes all types of flavored tobacco products including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars. All flavors, including menthol and spice flavors such as clove, would be banned.

The fiscal impacts are hard to calculate. While the city receives $3.10 per pack of cigarettes sold and a 40 percent sales tax on other products, the percentage of those sales that involve flavored items are not reported, according to city finance director Pete Strecker. Presumably the loss of sales would mean a loss of sales tax, but that tax brought in $100,000 more than was predicted in its first year.

In San Francisco, the city was sued after enacting the flavor ban, but the law was upheld. In a work session last week, City Attorney Jim True told council that the measure would be a risk for lawsuit.

“I cannot say that if you took this action you’d be free from litigation,” True said.

Assistant City Attorney Andrea Bryan explained that the city is able to put restrictions on free market sales when it comes to public good, as its has done with plastic bags and a proposed ban on fur in the past.

“Local governments are afforded broad discretion in implementing reasonable regulations to protect the public health, safety, and welfare,” Bryan wrote in an email.

Data from the Food and Drug Administration shows a 78 percent increase in adolescent use of e-cigarettes nationally within the last year. Colorado is number one in the country for teen use of vaping products, and the Roaring Fork Valley numbers are nearly three times higher than the national average, according to Pitkin County public health.

“When you get to a product that is actually bad for your health, it’s a different kind of product,” Levin said, adding that she’s not sure that the flavor ban is legal, but she thinks it’s the right move to take the risk. “We as adults and we as regulators and government have a responsibility to protect kids — I firmly believe in regulation in public health law.”

Aspen would be the first community in the state to pass this type of restriction. Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette introduced a similar measure on the federal level this month. The SAFE Kids Act is targeted solely at e-cigarettes and would ban the manufacturing of all flavored nicotine pods.

“To me, there is no legitimate reason to sell any product with names such as cotton candy or tutti fruitti, unless you are trying to market it to children,” DeGette said in a press release. “If we’re going to address the root cause of this problem, we have to start by banning the sale of these enticing kid-friendly nicotine flavors.”

Aspen was the first city in the state to raise the purchase age for all tobacco products from 18 to 21. Many other towns have followed suit including Basalt and Carbondale and a measure in the Colorado state house would allow counties to create tobacco retail license without losing tax dollars from the state.

The hope is that Aspen would lead the way again.

“This is a bigger conversation and the only way to make change right now is local change,” Levin said. “We can do it.”