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Juul is paying $462 million to settle yet another case


The company that popularized vaping, Juul, is paying to settle yet another case. Today the New York attorney general, Letitia James, with counterparts in five other states and Washington, D.C., announced the $462 million settlement.


LETITIA JAMES: Juul's lies led to a nationwide public health crisis and put addictive products in the hands of minors, who thought they were doing something harmless.

LIMBONG: It's the largest settlement Juul's paid so far in cases for its role in creating a new generation of young nicotine users. NPR's Yuki Noguchi joins us to talk about it. Hey, Yuki.


LIMBONG: All right. So what does this settlement do?

NOGUCHI: Well, there's the impact on the company, and then there's the question of what it might do for public health.


NOGUCHI: It's obviously a financial blow for Juul - another one. With this, it will have paid well over $2 billion to settle these kinds of cases so far. It's in a target zone because Juul really single-handedly launched e-cigarettes and repopularized nicotine use, which had been on a serious decline among teens. And it used social media and exploited viral marketing very, very effectively.

But in part because it's been a target, Juul is no longer a major player. Its success spawned hundreds of newer companies, some of which sell different forms of e-cigarettes, like disposable pods and stuff. But what - you know, I think the question is what does this settlement signal to them? And California Attorney General Rob Bonta said this.


ROB BONTA: I'm proud to stand up here today with the message to e-cigarette and vaping manufacturers. If you set your sights on our children, we will set our sights on you.

NOGUCHI: So they're suggesting other companies might follow in Juul's footsteps.

LIMBONG: So if the industry has grown well beyond, you know, just Juul, you know, do we know what effect punishing Juul will have on youth vaping overall?

NOGUCHI: Well, that's precisely the concern among anti-nicotine and tobacco advocates. Dennis Henigan is among them. He heads regulatory affairs for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

DENNIS HENIGAN: Even now, years after Juul entered the market, we still face a very serious problem of e-cigarette usage among kids.

NOGUCHI: So Henigan and others argue a lot of other things also have to happen. You know, the money has to go to funding smoking prevention programs. He wants to see internal Juul documents to study how the company engineered the success so they can better counter it. And he wants to see federal regulatory crackdowns, which he says have been too slow.

LIMBONG: What has the federal response been?

NOGUCHI: Well, most of that's come from the Food and Drug Administration. And over the last couple of years, it's been reviewing every single e-cigarette product, which is eight million items, for approval. And the FDA initially denied Juul's products, but then is rereviewing them. So far, the agency has approved a handful of e-cigarettes on the grounds, you know, they might help adults trying to reduce harm from smoking tobacco cigarettes. But the agency is rejecting products with youth appeal - you know, things that come with fruity or candy or mint flavors.

LIMBONG: Mmm hmm. So only a tiny percentage of the products out there are actually approved for adult use.

NOGUCHI: Yeah (laughter). That's right. But you can still find tons of unapproved products sold at gas stations and other places because regulators stepped in after the youth e-cigarette boom was already underway. And removing them from the market has been a complicated process with little enforcement.

LIMBONG: NPR's Yuki Noguchi, thanks so much.

NOGUCHI: Thank you. 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.