E-cigarette maker Juul shuts down Facebook, Instagram accounts after FDA criticism

Kevin Burns, CEO of e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, released an action plan to curb teenage use of its nicotine products, effective Nov. 13.

The move follows a recent request from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, who asked e-cigarette makers to propose steps to restrict youth use of these products in September, according to The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Gottlieb is expected to announce a ban on most flavored e-cigarettes for stores that don't have areas restricted to adults in the coming weeks, which would effectively remove these products from most convenience stores.

In a Nov. 13 blog post, Mr. Burns claimed teenage use of Juul's products stood in contrast to the company's mission. "We want to be the off-ramp for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes, not an on-ramp for America's youth to initiate on nicotine," he wrote. "We won't be successful in our mission to serve adult smokers if we don't narrow the on-ramp."

One of the steps Mr. Burns outlined in his action plan involves minimizing the company's social media presence. Juul shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts Nov. 13, and Mr. Burns said the company plans to confine its Twitter presence to "non-promotional communications only." Juul imposed a 21-plus age restriction on its YouTube page, which posts product testimonials from former adult smokers.

Juul also plans to monitor user-generated posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, and work with social media companies to remove "youth-oriented social media content" that promotes underage use of its products. "There is no question that this user-generated social media content is linked to the appeal of vaping to underage users," Mr. Burns wrote.

Dr. Gottlieb acknowledged Juul's steps in a Nov. 13 tweet, but hinted at future regulatory actions. "We're deeply concerned about the epidemic of youth use of e-cigs," he wrote. "Voluntary action is no substitute for regulatory steps FDA will soon take. But we want to recognize actions by Juul today and urge all manufacturers to immediately implement steps to start reversing these trends."

Juul, which launched in 2015, has been particularly popular among teenagers. Juul's social media posts tended to pose the company as a "cool lifestyle accessory" for those in their 20s and 30s, according to WSJ, and user-generated social media posts that "glamorized" its products have played an integral role in the company's rapid growth.

Other steps in Juul's action plan include restricting the sale of its flavored nicotine liquids, so that mango, fruit, creme and cucumber flavors are now only available on its online store, at least temporarily. The four flavors are no longer available in retail stores.

To read Juul's action plan, click here.

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