For The Record

Georgia’s attorney general joins states taking aim at e-cigarette marketing

By: - February 26, 2020 7:44 am

A proposed tax on smokeless tobacco products won’t raise as much as a tax on traditional cigarettes but both are a possibility as the 2020 Legislature puzzles over ways to balance next year’s budget. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Georgia is the latest state to join an investigation into the marketing and sales practices of the nation’s dominant electronic cigarette manufacturer.

Attorneys general from 39 states have signed onto the investigation of Juul’s marketing of vaping products to young people and whether it misled on the addictiveness and ability to help people quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. The multi-state investigation is another legal entanglement for an industry that’s facing new federal and state regulations on the devices used by many young people to inhale nicotine-infused liquids.

States across the country are also suing Juul over the same complaints that the company targeted young people with marketing designed to create dependence on nicotine. In 2018, Marlboro-maker Altria purchased a one-third stake in Juul.

“While traditional cigarette use has plummeted among youth, vaping is skyrocketing, undermining national progress towards reducing tobacco use,” said a statement from Carr’s office.

Increased vaping rates among Georgia’s youth tracks national statistics, which grew  to more than 5 million users in 2019 from 3.6 million in 2018. In Georgia, 27% of high school students said they had tried e-cigarettes in 2017, up from 16% four years earlier.

“Underage vaping has reached epidemic proportions,” Carr’s statement said. “Our office is committed to learning all the facts so that we can best protect Georgia’s youth from products that could be harmful to them.” 

Georgia legislators are also targeting the e-cigarette industry this year with bills that propose to tax vaping products, stiffen the penalties for illegal sales to minors and prevent stores from selling nicotine products with candy and super-hero-themed names that could appeal to minors.

Another Senate bill aims to punish students who are caught with vaping products on school campuses and empowers law enforcement to seize the items as contraband. Under the current proposal, a student could face a $25 fine and a misdemeanor charge, although some have argued that the penalties are too harsh.

“I want it to be a deterrent from doing it in school. I want to try to get it out of the schools,” Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said at a Tuesday committee meeting.

Juul announced in August it would work to discourage young people from vaping and no longer advertise its products on TV, radio or online. The company said less than 5% of sales in the U.S. were flavored products.

However, a Stanford University study found that Juul’s advertising targeted underage teenagers in during its first six months on the market in 2015. That approach became more nuanced over the next couple of years, according to the report. 

The value of Altria’s investment in Juul plummeted by billions of dollars in the past year following a string of lawsuits and other controversies, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report. 

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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