Juul’s Convenient Smoke Screen

11 January 2019
Kevin Roose
The New York Times

Juul Labs, the company behind the insanely popular vaping device, has a message for the nation’s estimated 37.8 million adult smokers:

It really, really, really cares about them. And it wants them (and onlythem — got that, teens?) to try vaping instead.

“For smokers. By design,” blares the company’s website. A new $10 million TV ad campaign, called “Make the Switch,” echoes that theme, featuring testimonials from ex-smokers, all comfortably above the legal smoking age, who have swapped their cigarettes for a Juul.

This benevolent-sounding mission — helping nicotine-addicted adult smokers switch to something far less likely to kill them — is Juul’s new pitch, and the way it hopes to rehabilitate its image as one of Silicon Valley’s most problematic start-ups.

Juul’s new commercials feature testimonials from former smokers.

You can’t fault Juul for trying. The company, which is valued at $38 billion, has been through the wringer lately, with regulators, public health advocates and concerned parents accusing it of fueling an epidemic of teenage nicotine addiction by marketing to young people with fruit-flavored pods, colorful youth-filled ads and social media campaigns. It has been sued by users and lambasted by lawmakers, and the Food and Drug Administration, which is investigating whether Juul’s marketing practices deliberately targeted underage users, conducted a surprise inspection of the company’s headquarters last year. (In November, Juul announced it would shut down its Instagram and Facebook accounts, and stop selling most flavored pods in stores.)The ads are part of a $10 million campaign.

The ads are part of a $10 million campaign.

Adding to the concern is that last month, Juul took a $12.8 billion investment from Altria, the tobacco giant behind Marlboro and other popular brands, in exchange for 35 percent of the company.

Juul is far from the first company to attempt a humanitarian makeover. Facebook, an outgrowth of a Harvard student’s juvenile attempt to quantify the attractiveness of his classmates, now claims to have been motivated by a virtuous impulse to connect the world; Uber, created by two tech entre