Big Brother Knows Best: NC Sues to Restrict Sales of E-Cigarette Makers, Juul

RALEIGH – Democrat North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is suing Juul, the popular e-cigarette maker that has absorbed much of the market share for these cigarette alternatives. So, why is Stein making the Old North State the first to take such legal action against the company? According to the complaint, because the Juul caused addiction in consumers by “deceptively downplaying the potency and danger of the nicotine” and targeted people below the legal smoking age.

From the Washington Post:

“Several of the state’s requests overlap with existing Food and Drug Administration policies, including prohibiting the sale of Juul and other e-cigarette products to minors. But the state’s complaint goes further: FDA guidelines restrict the sale of fruit or candy flavors in stores, allowing menthol, tobacco and mint to be sold. North Carolina’s request would bring mint off the market in that state, in addition to the popular flavors like mango and cucumber.

Also, all Juul flavors can be purchased online after customers verify their age on the company’s website. Stein hopes to restrict those sales, too, by preventing all customers in North Carolina from purchasing flavors online that aren’t tobacco or menthol.

And the state is asking the court to apply a marketing and advertising ban that mimics that of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which went into effect in 1998. It would prevent the company from creating emails, advertising or social media marketing aimed at minors. It also asks the court to block Juul from advertising outdoors and near schools or playgrounds, sponsoring “sports, entertainment, or charity events,” offering free or discounted samples, or promoting products with fashion or media outlets that primarily target consumers under 30.

“Addicting a new generation of teenagers is unacceptable, illegal and that’s why I’m taking action,” Stein told The Washington Post. “This is about a company that is selling its product predominantly to [youth]. There has to be some limitation on the way they do business.” […]”

Stein should also add that he’s taking action in order to garner positive attention for protecting kids, a cheap trick that usually involved more heavy-handed government regulation and never really achieves the intended purpose.

Admittedly, ‘vaping’ has become trendy, particularly among young adults. For all the real risks associated with nicotine, and the largely unknown risks of inhaling these vapors, these products have also served as an alternative to smoking tobacco, which is undoubtedly more harmful.

To wit:

Vape sales in the United States have climbed. At the same time, Nielsen data confirms cigarette sales declined by at least 5 percent last year and up to 8 percent in recent months; a single percentage point represents 2 billion to 3 billion fewer cigarettes smoked. Another study, funded by Juul, showed that after three months of using Juul products, nearly 50 percent of adult smokers moved off combustible cigarettes completely.

The North Carolina lawsuit argues that the flash drive-sized e-cigarette has played a central role in “fostering the epidemic of e-cigarette use among youth.”

“To the extent that [Juul] has anecdotally been shown to help some adults quit smoking, that’s great,” Stein said. “Adults seeking to quit smoking can use the same flavors currently available to them, tobacco and menthol.”

Stein: stop complaining, we government officials know what’s best for you, we’ll “allow” you certain things. Doesn’t that sound a tad bit Big Brother-ish?

Is there really a problem with youth vaping sufficient to justify state action? Should it be the government’s role to throttle what kind of products are allowed, and discount personal responsibility? Is suing to make such products more restricted really going to address this ‘problem’?

Teenagers and young adults have a way of gravitating toward what is forbidden. Designating so many of these trendy products as ‘off limits’ may, in fact, make them even more alluring to youth.

None of that really matters, though, because this is likely more about publicity for Stein than actually achieving a positive outcome (assuming it needs addressing in the first place). He is back up for re-election in 2020, and leading the charge against some evil purveyor of nicotine vaping products — for the kids, no less — would be just the kind of thing Stein could use to raise his profile.

Read more about Stein’s publicity lawsuit against Juul here.

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