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E-cigarette company Juul reaches settlement over its marketing of vaping products

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Juul, once the biggest vaping brand in the U.S., reached a big settlement today. The e-cigarette maker agreed to pay nearly $440 million to 33 states and Puerto Rico. The states and territory argued that Juul marketed heavily to children, leading to sharp increases in youth vaping. NPR's Yuki Noguchi is covering this story. And, Yuki, what is the significance of this settlement?

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Well, it's intended to send a strong message to the e-cigarette industry, and the settlement is large in scope, you know, 34 states or territories. Each participating state will get tens of millions of dollars to fund anti-smoking programs. And it's another blow to a company that's already in hot water. You know, Juul is really the original player in vaping when it started seven years ago, and it got a big investment from cigarette maker Altria. And its marketing was both effective and, at least according to investigators, very aggressive. Connecticut State Attorney General William Tong talked about this in a press conference today.

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WILLIAM TONG: They didn't focus on television, print, radio, traditional media that gets at people like us - right? - with some gray hair. What they did was they focused on other outlets, including Instagram, TikTok, to a lesser degree, Facebook.

NOGUCHI: You know, Ari, they also employed influencers, celebrities and threw parties to promote its products. So Tong says that from the beginning, the company clearly targeted young kids who legally cannot buy e-cigarettes in the first place.

SHAPIRO: Juul's been under fire for its marketing practice for a while now. Are its critics satisfied with this settlement?

NOGUCHI: Mostly, but not entirely. I spoke with one parent, Meredith Berkman, who co-founded the group Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes, and she's happy the company is facing consequences but worries the measures don't go far enough to address things like addiction and lung damage.

MEREDITH BERKMAN: The human cost to this generation cannot be quantified, and we will see public health care costs continuing to unfold for decades to come.

NOGUCHI: She notes that the market now has many players, many of whom copy Juul's tactics, so she would have liked to see a bigger settlement that reflected what she calls the ongoing public health costs of vaping. And she also wants to see Juul's products forced off the market. That's something the Food and Drug Administration tried to do earlier this year.

SHAPIRO: What happened to that effort?

NOGUCHI: Well, it's in limbo. Juul's products are still on the shelves because the company got a stay, a delay, essentially, for now. The FDA started its review of the entire e-cigarette industry a few years ago. Essentially, it's saying, you know, companies need to get permission to keep their products on the market. In June, the FDA rejected Juul's applications. It said some of its products were potentially toxic and also leaked from the electronic pods. Juul immediately fought back in court, saying the FDA ignored a lot of data, and the company claims its products are designed to actually help with smoking cessation. So now the FDA is re-reviewing Juul's applications, and we don't know yet whether the agency will stick with its original decision to pull the products off the market.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Thank you very much.

NOGUCHI: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIRAA MAY'S "INTERNET TROLLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.