Juul CEO Says "Sorry" To Parents Of Vaping Kids

By Paul Gaita 07/16/19

The Juul CEO apologized during an interview in the documentary 'Vaporized: America's E-cigarette Addiction.'

Juul CEO Kevin Burns
Juul CEO Kevin Burns Photo via YouTube

When asked what he'd tell a parent of a child who was addicted to the popular Juul e-cigarette, the company's CEO, Kevin Burns, said that he was "sorry." 

Burns, who was interviewed as part of a CNBC documentary, Vaporized: America's E-cigarette Addiction, which aired Monday (July 15), said that Juul products are not intended for use by children, and that as a parent of a teenager himself, he had "empathy for them."

Juul, which comprises an approximate 40% of the e-cigarette industry, has made efforts to make its products less appealing for young consumers, including the closure of its U.S.-based social media accounts.

A Fifth Of High School Students Vape

But with studies showing that 21% of American high school students used a vaping product in 2019, health advocates—and in particular, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb—are pointing to Juul as the source of the problem. 

In the documentary, CNBC reporter Carl Quintanilla asked Burns about parents of young Juul users while touring one of the company's manufacturing plants in Wisconsin. 

"First of all, I'd tell them that I'm sorry that their child's using the product," he said. "It's not intended for them. I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them. As a parent of a 16-year-old, I'm sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges they're going through."

Too Little, Too Late

As CNBC noted, Juul has attempted to counter interest among young people through a variety of measures, from eliminating fruit-flavored products, closing its stateside social media accounts and supporting initiatives that recommend raising the minimum smoking age to 21.

For some critics, these efforts are too little, too late. CNBC quoted Juul co-founder Adam Bowen, who concurred with critics about the company's early advertising efforts, which appeared to concentrate on elements that could appeal to young consumers—youthful models, bright colors, and the use of memes and cartoon imagery. Bowen called these efforts "inappropriate," but also suggested that they had "no impact on sales."

Outgoing FDA Commissioner Gottlieb made e-cigarettes' appeal to young consumers, and in particular, Juul's impact on that demographic, one of the focal points of his tenure.

Gottlieb issued warnings and financial penalties to retailers that illegally sold their product to minors and took steps to cut off online sales of their products to young consumers, but held up a key deadline that would have required e-cigarettes to submit to an FDA review that would have determined their public health benefits or threats. He later expressed reservations about the decision.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.