Like with the traditional tobacco industry, it seems e-cigarette manufacturer Juul was not at all concerned with the moral implications of its first advertising campaign back in 2015. That surprises exactly no one. But you could knock us over with a feather when we learned who was willing to sell ad space to the vaping company: Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network and other websites meant to teach and entertain children.
This revelation comes from a lawsuit that Massachusetts State Attorney General Maura Healey filed earlier this week, according to the New York Times. The suit alleges that Juul Labs Inc. intentionally marketed its vaping products to underage audiences and demands that the company pay to repair the ensuing public health crisis of youth vaping in the state.
“JUUL, more than any other company, bears responsibility for the fact that millions of young people nationwide are now addicted to e-cigarettes, reversing decades of progress in combating underage tobacco and nicotine use and addiction,” the complaint reads.
The court documents show the company’s discussions with advertising agencies, including how it chose to use young celebrities and influencers to represent the brand. It then details that some of the resulting online video ads went to media buyers that place ads on websites. These sites included: Nick.com, NickJr.com, CartoonNetwork.com, allfreekidscrafts.com, hellokids.com, kidsgameheroes.com, dailydressupgames.com, didigames.com, forhergames.com, games2girls.com, girlgames.com, girlsgogames.com, coolmath-games.com, basic-mathematics.com, coolmath.com, math-aids.com, mathplayground.com, mathway.com, onlinemathlearning.com, purplemath.com, socialstudiesforkids.com, teen.com, seventeen.com, justjaredjr.com, hireteen.com, collegeconfidential.com, collegeview.com, collegehumor.com, thecollegeprepster.com and survivingcollege.com.
We listed all of those, just so you know this isn’t just about some wrongdoing at Nickelodeon, and to be fair, some of those other sites probably did have users who were of legal age to buy tobacco products. But Nick Jr.?
SheKnows has reached out to Nickelodeon’s press department for comment, and we’re awaiting a reply.
In the meantime, we know based on our conversations with teenagers that they are seeing these vaping ads.
“They’re very clearly marketing to children,” 19-year-old Sadie told us last summer.
But while they’ve grown up learning that smoking cigarettes is harmful to their health, the message about the dangers of vaping hasn’t reached them.
“Kids our age think that smoking cigarettes is the worst thing you can do, but that Juuling isn’t that bad,” 14-year-old Sabine said.
A recent survey of teens in New Jersey, conducted by Rutgers University, found that those who used Juul didn’t even consider it an e-cigarette. That’s some clever marketing. It also makes us wonder if the numbers on teen vaping use — one in four high school students! — might be even higher.
Meanwhile, we know that use of e-cigarette (ahem, including Juul) increases the risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease, depression and anxiety. That’s in addition to the vaping-related lung disease deaths that made headlines last year.
Parents might feel a bit powerless in the face of this news about Juul ads, but there are steps we can take to protect our kids. First of all, we can make children aware, even at a young age, about what advertisements are and how they try to make us want things. The Better Business Bureau’s Children Advertising Review Unit has this helpful guide for doing so.
You can also use our guide to talk to kids about the risks of vaping.