E-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc bought online advertisements on teen-focused websites for Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Seventeen magazine after it launched its product in 2015, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.The allegations in the lawsuit, stemming from a more than year-long investigation, contradict repeated claims by Juul executives that the company never intentionally targeted teenagers, even as its products became enormously popular among high-school and middle-school students in recent 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.
The attorney general’s office said those ad purchases began in June 2015, when the product launched, and continued into 2016. Juul had the ability to put certain websites onto a “blacklist” that would prohibit ads from appearing there, according to the attorney general’s office, but the company chose not to do that.
A Juul spokesman said in an emailed statement on Wednesday: “While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on … earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials … to combat underage use.”Over the past year Juul has faced a hail of criticism and regulatory scrutiny over its role in what public health officials call an “epidemic” of teenage nicotine addiction.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, seeks unspecified damages from Juul to compensate those affected by nicotine addiction and to pay for the costs associated with “combating this public health crisis,” the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said.