The e-cigarette company Juul has faced backlash from the Food and Drug Administration, who said earlier this year that teen use of the kind of flavored vape pens the company makes is becoming an “epidemic.” Now, the company is suggesting that the real problem is peer pressure.
To deal with the teen vaping epidemic, Juul offered to pay schools as much as $20,000 to introduce a vaping curriculum that would explicitly place more of the blame on peer pressure, BuzzFeed News reported. Juul consultants reportedly encouraged students to try meditation and mindfulness exercises as an alternative to the vape pen, but failed to teach them about the dangers of vaping, experts said.
According to an analysis of the curriculum published earlier this month in the the Journal of Adolescent Health, Juul did not include information about how young people are especially susceptible to nicotine addiction. It also barely mentioned the company by name.
“The JUUL Curriculum’s approach to addressing the risk of e-cigarettes is insufficient because it neglects to present information on nicotine levels in JUULs, which is very high,” experts said. “Therefore, the JUUL Curriculum is not portraying the harmful details of their product, similar to how past tobacco industry curricula left out details of the health risks of cigarette use.”
After contacting multiple schools, BuzzFeed News found that Juul offered $10,000 to Sequoia Union School District in California, Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, and the Arlington Youth Health & Safety Coalition in Massachusetts to run the program. The company also offered $20,000 for the same purpose to California’s Tamalpais Union High School District.
Experts also expressed concern that the company didn’t mention its marketing or flavors. “They don’t at all talk about flavors, and the fact that the tobacco industry is targeting youths through the use of flavors,” Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a pediatrics professor at Stanford University, told the Daily Beast.
“The stipends were intended to cover the costs associated with operational expenses, resources, or training/material for teachers with the programs the school or district chose to employ,” Victoria Davis, a Juul spokesperson, said in a statement sent to Fortune.
But groups raising awareness about youth consumption of tobacco products called it an empty and shameless PR stunt.
Davis continued: “We do not want any young person—or non-nicotine user—to ever use JUUL. We only want to implement initiatives that will help current adult smokers switch to JUUL, while ensuring young people do not access our product. We stand committed to working with those who want to keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people.”