Juul co-founder defends company during congressional hearing

Juul Labs Co-Founder James Monsees defended the vape giant at a congressional hearing on Thursday by maintaining that he did not take a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook with its ads, which many blame for the ensuing e-cigarette epidemic among the youth.

At one point, the hearing highlighted a crucial conversation between Monsees and a top researcher Stanford.

Congress questioned Monsees for the first time on Capitol Hill by members of the House Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee. Democrats plied Monsees with questions about how it framed its early ads — including how it worked with influencers — drawing on various documents procured from the company.

‘You’re under oath and you’re denying that you made that statement?’

In an interview with Yahoo Finance in May, Stanford University researcher Dr. Robert Jackler said that when he had met Monsees in 2018, he broached the similarities in terms of the color schemes between Juul’s ‘Vaporized’ campaign and American Spirit. Specifically, Jackler said he told Monsees that “it looks like you ripped that off.”

At that point, according to Dr. Jackler, Monsees didn’t respond but “looked down and smiled, which I thought was very telling.”

During the first of the two sessions held this week, Jackler testified that Monsees “thanked us for the database that we have of 50,000 traditional tobacco ads… he said they were very helpful as they designed Juul’s advertising.”

On Wednesday’s session, Dr. Jackler stressed: “We know very well — having studied tobacco advertising — that Juul’s marketing faithfully recapitulates the methods used by the tobacco industry to target young people.”

On Thursday, Monsees denied that this specific exchange took place.

“Yesterday … Dr. Jackler, a professor from Stanford University, testified under oath before this subcommittee that you confirmed to him that you reviewed Stanford’s online library of cigarette advertising and found it … ‘very helpful’ ... you did in fact meet with Dr. Jackler, didn’t you?” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who also chairs the economic subcommittee of the House on Oversight and Reform asked Monsees.

“I did, but I did not make that statement to Dr. Jackler,” Monsees testified.

“Ok sir, you’re under oath and you’re denying that you made that statement to Dr. Jackler, is that correct?” responded Rep. Krishnamoorthi.

“I think that unfortunately Dr. Jackler may have misheard my commentary. In fact, the resource that he compiled is a useful resource. Back when Adam and I were at Stanford, we were very interested in understanding more about the historical bad actions of tobacco companies. … to familiarize ourselves with how not to run the business.”

‘Nothing but a marketer of poison’

Dr. Jackler’s research had previously drawn upon multiple similarities across colors, themes, and poses that models took between ads by Big Tobacco and Big Vape.

Lawmakers identify those marketing campaigns as partly responsible for the teen vaping crisis that ensued.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had aired his concern shortly before he left the agency in April.

Soon “you’re going to be at overall tobacco use among children in this country, of 40, 45%,” Gottlieb said. “That is simply intolerable. I went back and looked at data back to 1950, and we haven’t seen that level of tobacco use among kids.”

“About 4.9 million middle and high school students were current users (used in the past 30 days) of some type of tobacco product in 2018, up from 3.6 million in 2017,” a February CDC report noted. “This increase — driven by a surge in e-cigarette use — erased past progress in reducing youth tobacco product use.”

Several members took a harsh tone against Juul, pressing Monsees with questions about how the company deals with influencers, and whether it tried to circumvent FDA regulation.

But Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) had the last — if not harshest — word.

“You, sir, are an example to me as the worst of the Bay Area,” he told Monsees. “You don’t ask for permission, you ask for forgiveness. You’re nothing but a marketer of poison and your target has been young people.”

Monsees told lawmakers that he was “dedicated to learning from our mistakes and not repeating them” but denied using old ads from Big Tobacco as a guideline for designing Juul’s early ad campaigns.

Big Tobacco-backed Juul Labs ‘isn’t Big Tobacco’

Despite that fact that American tobacco giant Altria (MO) owns a 35% stake in Juul — which it purchased for $12.8 billion in December 2018 — Monsees tried to distance Juul from Big Tobacco.

"Put simply, Juul Labs isn’t Big Tobacco,” he said in his opening statement. “We are here to eliminate its product, the cigarette.”

He added later that “there is no higher priority for this company” than to prevent underage use, and that ultimately, the tobacco industry is one that has “done wrong for a truly long period of time and we are changing that from the inside out.”

Because Juul Labs is a company that is “100% committed to changing the fabric of this market and eliminating cigarettes for good.”

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E-cigarettes and vaping

Employee at Cloud 10, an e-cigarette store in Simi Valley, CA, demonstrates the type of smoke, with no smell, comes out of an electric cigarette. Sales are Booming at this store.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images

A customer exhales vapor while smoking an electric cigarette at the Betamorph E-Cigs store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Sales in the U.S. vapor-device market are projected to rise by 21% annually through 2020, based on Euromonitor Passport data.

(Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An e-cigarette store in Simi Valley, CA, called Cloud 10, displays various types of electric cigarettes juice flavors for sale. Sales are Booming at this store.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images)

Indonesian teenager exhaling smoke from Electric Cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as seen in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia on December 5, 2014 night. Electric cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are increasingly popular in Indonesia, especially among teenagers. In fact, cigarettes are actually more harmful than regular cigarettes with an increasing number of patients with poisoning after using electronic cigarettes and nicotine liquid continues to increase. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes, electronic cigarette brand has been produced in 466, 8,000 taste, spending budget of US $ 3 billion.

(Photo by Ivan Damanik/NurPhoto) 

Gdynia, Poland 29th, Dec. 2015 Polish Ministry of Health plans to ban electronic cigarettes sales to persons under the age of 18, restrictions on advertising and promotion and to introduce to them technical requirements. The new Tobacco Control law will come into force in the 2nd quarter of 2016. Pictured: Lady smokes electronic cigarette.

(Michal Fludra/Corbis via Getty Images)

Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand smokes an electric cigarette during day two of the World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath Golf Club on November 25, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Electric cigarette 'juice' w/various flavors.This is at Cloud 10 in Simi Valley, CA This brand is the most popular at this store. Santa Monica just passed the law no e-cigarettes allowed anywhere. Business is booming at this location.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images

Mitchell Baker who works at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, exhales vapour produced by an e-cigarette on December 30, 2016 in Bristol, England. Recent figures released by the e-cigarette industry has claimed that there as many as 1700 vaping shops across the country, with two new ones opening each day catering for the estimated three million vapers in the UK. The popularity of e-cigarettes has boomed in the last ten years, as it is seen by many as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, however some critics say the devices can carry the same risks as smoking especially as the long term affects are yet to be known.

(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

E-cigarette merchandise is displayed for sale at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, on December 30, 2016 in Bristol, England. Recent figures released by the e-cigarette industry has claimed that there as many as 1700 vaping shops across the country, with two new ones opening each day catering for the estimated three million vapers in the UK. The popularity of e-cigarettes has boomed in the last ten years, as it is seen by many as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, however some critics say the devices can carry the same risks as smoking especially as the long term affects are yet to be known.

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A reveller dressed in a Father Christmas costume smokes from an electronic cigarette device as he takes part in Santacon outside Euston Station on December 10, 2016 in London, England. Santacon is an annual parade taking place in cities around the world and sees revellers dressed in Father Christmas costumes take to the streets to spread seasonal cheer.

(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Flavored vape juice bottles are displayed for sale at the Betamorph E-Cigs store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Sales in the U.S. vapor-device market are projected to rise by 21% annually through 2020, based on Euromonitor Passport data.

(Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A woman smokes an electronic cigarette during the Vapexpo 2015 Moscow, at Sokolniki Exhibition Center on December 05, 2015, in Moscow, Russia.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This picture taken on November 19, 2015 shows bottles of concentrated flavors displayed at a vape shop in Kuala Lumpur. Vaping' is soaring in popularity in Malaysia, the largest e-cigarette market in the Asia-Pacific region, but authorities are threatening to ban the habit in for health reasons -- a move that has sparked anger from growing legions of aficionados.

(MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A man smokes an E-Cigarette in the Vape Lab coffee bar, on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

This picture taken on November 19, 2015 shows a worker (R) inspecting a coil, the metal heating element in an e-cigarette that produces vapour from e-juices, at a vape shop in Kuala Lumpur. Vaping' is soaring in popularity in Malaysia, the largest e-cigarette market in the Asia-Pacific region, but authorities are threatening to ban the habit in for health reasons -- a move that has sparked anger from growing legions of aficionados.

(MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman smokes an electronic cigarette during the Vapexpo 2015 Moscow, at Sokolniki Exhibition Center on December 05, 2015, in Moscow, Russia.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A customer smokes an E-Cigarette at Digital Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

E-Cigarettes are sold at the V-Revolution E-Cigarette shop in Covent Garden on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In this photo illustration, a man smokes an E-Cigarette at the V-Revolution E-Cigarette shop in Covent Garden on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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