Mass. AG and watchdog groups want to snuff out ads aimed at people of all ages

Get Off Our Lawn, Again!

Okay. We’ve said it before. And we’re sorry if we’re starting to sound like a broken record.

But things were so much simpler when we were young.

From video games where people can buy wins to fidget spinner health threats, the culture has taken some baffling turns. The latest is all this e-cigarette folderol: pods and kits and cartridges and tanks and … eJuice. What on earth is eJuice?

We’re not condoning nicotine addiction in any form, but we’re amazed that anyone can figure out how to get hooked anymore.

… Plus C’est la Même Chose

One thing remains familiar, however: E-cigarettes, despite their initial rep as a safe alternative to standard cigarettes, have attracted negative attention from regulators. The federal government’s decision to regulate e-cigarettes as one tobacco product among many kicked in back in 2016; most recently, the Food and Drug Administration held a “public scientific workshop … to discuss the unique challenges associated with youth tobacco addiction and cessation … with a focus on e-cigarette cessation.”

Above and beyond federal guidelines, which they are bound to follow, states have embraced a variety of legislative approaches to dealing with the e-cigarette issue.

Mass Attack!

But some jurisdictions prefer a plain, old-fashioned lawsuit.

Recently, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued New Jersey vaping product company Eonsmoke in the commonwealth’s Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court. According to the Healey complaint, Eonsmoke targeted sales of its vaping products to youth and neglected to verify consumer age before selling and shipping to them – offenses banned under Massachusetts’ Consumer Protection Act.

In one instance, the complaint alleges, Eonsmoke paid an influencer – some dude named “DonnySmokes” – to market its products to kids.

In the past, the suit alleges, Donny (can we just call him Donny?) uploaded videos instructing his followers on “How to HIDE & HIT Your JUUL at SCHOOL WITHOUT Getting CAUGHT.”

The complaint also included allegations that Eonsmoke sold nicotine products with kid-friendly flavors like “sourgummy,” “gummybear,” “donutcream” and “cerealloops.”

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Watchdog groups are on the e-cigarette warpath as well.

Recently, a passel of anti-smoking organizations, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, penned a missive to the FDA demanding that the administration investigate the big kahuna of e-cig manufacturers, JUUL.

(An aside: Proving that when it rains it pours, JUUL is still under investigation by AG Healey, who launched an inquiry into the company back in July 2018 when she first started poking Eonsmoke.)

In this case, the watchdogs are attacking JUUL’s “express or implied claims that [its] products help users stop smoking,” and their line of attack is quite clever.

The Takeaway

According to the letter, “After JUUL came under intense public scrutiny and criticism for this youth-directed social media marketing, the company changed its marketing strategy to make it appear to be targeted only at adult smokers.” The watchdogs maintain that because these new advertisements focus on helping older smokers switch to e-cigarettes, “the intended use of JUUL now is for smoking cessation, a clear therapeutic purpose, making the advertised products drugs, devices, or combination products that must be approved prior to sale.”

And since JUUL products have never been approved for such a purpose, they are unapproved drugs or devices being “marketed illegally under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”

Flipping a company’s marketing against itself – an interesting demonstration of ad-world jiu-jitsu.