Juul bought ad space on kids’ websites, including Cartoon Network, lawsuit alleges

According to a suit filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday, e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc purchased online ads on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Seventeen Magazine websites after it launched its products in 2015.

The allegations, which are the result of a year-long investigation by the Juul executive team, contradict their repeated claims that the company did not intentionally target teenagers even though its products have become extremely popular among high school and middle school students over the past few years.

The lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the company worked through online ad buyers to purchase space on websites that were “highly attractive to children, adolescents in middle school and high school, and underage college students,” including educational websites such as coolmath-games.com and socialstudiesforkids.com.

Attorney General’s Office said that these ad purchase began in June 2015 when the product was launched and continued through 2016. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Juul could have put specific websites on a “blacklist,” which would prevent ads from appearing. However, the company did not do this.

In an email statement sent on Wednesday, a Juul spokesperson said: “While we are not yet reviewing the complaint, we continue to be focused on… earning the society’s trust by working with attorneys generals, regulators and public health officials…to combat underage usage.”

In the last year, Juul has been subjected to a flurry of criticisms and regulatory scrutiny for its role in a “epidemic” of teen nicotine addiction.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office said that the lawsuit was filed in Suffolk County Superior Court, Boston. It seeks damages unspecified from Juul in order to compensate those who are affected by nicotine addiction, and to cover the costs of “combating this public-health crisis.”

The lawsuit claims that, in addition to online advertising purchases, a marketing company hired by Juul prior to its launch in 2015 initially proposed an advertisement campaign that would have positioned Juul as a “technology firm” that had created products that were better than cigarettes. The campaign contrasted Juul’s vaping device against items like boom boxes and retro mobile phones, which are easily recognizable by adults. It also included the tagline, “Everything changes eventually.”

According to the lawsuit Juul rejected this campaign and chose instead a strategy to “win the cool crowd in key markets,” choosing to “promote fashionable young people in a sexually provocative setting.” According to the lawsuit, images from the 2015 marketing campaign were used for banners and videos on teen-focused sites.

Juul said that the initial marketing campaign was aimed at young adults between the ages of 20 and 30. It did not target teenagers. However, Juul regrets the style of advertising now.

In recent months, the company has been trying to revamp its image as it faces an important regulatory deadline in May with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. K.C. Crosthwaite, a former executive at Altria Group Inc. and Marlboro maker, was appointed as the company’s new chief operating officer in September. Crosthwaite is a former employee of Altria Group Inc., the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, and has restructured his company to gain approval to sell their products in the United States.

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