Comprehensive legislative action also needed to combat youth tobacco use
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation thanked Attorney General Keith Ellison for announcing a lawsuit against JUUL for illegally marketing to youth.
Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Children’s Minnesota physician Dr. Anne Griffiths and youth advocates joined the Attorney General for the announcement. Minnesota is the latest state to sue JUUL, which faces lawsuits from teens, school districts, communities and states including New York, California, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. Teen use of JUUL and other insidious high-nicotine e-cigarette products has skyrocketed in the state. Today, Minnesota is facing an epidemic of youth nicotine addiction driven primarily by JUUL e-cigarettes.
Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations that share a common goal of reducing youth smoking and ending tobacco’s harm for good, urged all lawmakers to take a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to the teen nicotine crisis. During the 2020 Legislative Session, Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation will advocate for comprehensive steps to stem youth tobacco addiction, including Tobacco 21, prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, investing in youth prevention and increasing tobacco prices.
“Thank you to Attorney General Ellison, Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan for standing up against JUUL and its predatory behavior. Any action that takes on Big Tobacco and reduces youth nicotine use is a step in the right direction,” said Molly Moilanen, Vice President at ClearWay MinnesotaSM and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation. “Far too many Minnesota students are JUULing in bathrooms, hallways and classrooms. Minnesota communities can do more to address this epidemic – and the biggest impact would come through sweeping, statewide policy change.”
Minnesota is a leader in holding Big Tobacco accountable. In the 1990s, the state took an aggressive approach to suing the tobacco industry for the health and economic harms caused by their deadly products. Today’s action by Attorney General Ellison follows that example. JUUL accounts for about 70 percent of the e-cigarette market. In 2018, the tobacco giant Altria (owner of Philip Morris USA) bought a 35 percent stake in the company, and JUUL is now run by a former Altria executive.
Widespread use of JUUL and other e-cigarettes has interrupted a generation of progress to lower youth tobacco rates. The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey found that 26 percent of Minnesota 11th-graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past month. Eleven percent of 8th-graders said they used e-cigarettes in the past month, which is nearly double the 2016 rate.
High teen vaping rates are a result of aggressive youth-focused marketing campaigns by JUUL, which included several tactics from Big Tobacco’s playbook. A recent Congressional investigation found that JUUL targeted kids as young as eight with a sophisticated marketing program. JUUL’s youth-centered marketing approach included summer camp, school programs and hundreds of social media influencers.
“Minnesota’s lawsuit against JUUL rightly holds that company accountable for its predatory behavior, but unfortunately there is no silver bullet to solving this health crisis,” Moilanen added. “We owe it to our kids to take an aggressive, multi-layered approach to reverse the nicotine epidemic and stand up to Big Tobacco.”
Teen tobacco use puts them at risk for health problems and a lifetime of addiction. Unfortunately, JUUL and other Big Tobacco companies have lured more than 5 million youth nationwide into e-cigarette use. The industry uses easy access, kid-friendly flavors and aggressive marketing to capture its next generation of customers. In 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General declared youth nicotine use an epidemic.
The Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation coalition encourages lawmakers to take a multi-layered approach to our youth nicotine addiction crisis. Local communities are leading the way toward bold policy change. To date, 55 Minnesota communities have passed Tobacco 21 and 10 communities have restricted the sale of all flavored tobacco products, four of which completely prohibit their sale. In addition to prohibiting kid-friendly flavors and raising the tobacco age, Minnesota faces an urgent need for statewide tobacco prevention funding since ClearWay Minnesota will sunset by 2022.