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Senators Ask FDA and FTC to Investigate After Juul Bought Its Way Into an Academic Journal

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Last month, the e-cigarette giant Juul bought out an entire issue of a major scientific journal, which dedicated a month’s coverage to pro-vaping studies that were funded solely by the company. And now, two senators want two of the biggest federal agencies to investigate.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal have cosigned separate memos to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate Juul’s decision to buy out a full edition of The American Journal of Health Behavior for $51,000. The full spread included 11 studies across the journal’s May-June issue that all seemed to be written with one goal in mind: make Juul look like the healthiest smoking alternative possible.

Juul is understandably on the offensive right now. As Warren and Blumenthal note in their letters, the company is in an all out battle to win favor with the FDA before Sept. 9, which is when the agency will formally decide whether e-cigs should be authorized for consumer use. And if you read the Juul-sponsored edition of the Journal, you’d likely come out saying “yes.” Each study was designed to prove that e-cigs are a useful tool to convert smokers away from the harms of smoking traditional cigarettes.

But the papers left out a few things. First, none of Juul’s promo materials mention that each of the 26 authors across these studies were either employed or contracting for Juul at the time of the journal’s publication. These promos also leave out Juul’s many scandals around marketing vaping products toward teens and tweens, which in some cases resulted in those kids being hooked on cigarettes further down the line. There’s also the fact that many of the journal’s editors were completely unaware that Juul was sponsoring that month’s issue until after it was published, leading to multiple staffers resigning in the aftermath.

In their letter to the FDA, both Blumenthal and Warren plead with the agency to “not allow itself to be swayed” by the longstanding tobacco industry tactic of passing off self-interested pseudo-academic fluff as unbiased academic research.

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“This is an egregious example of the industry ‘taking academic corruption to a new level,’” they wrote. “It also underscores the need for close FDA scrutiny of Juul and its effort to shape the public discussion and scientific review of its products through unfair and deceptive practices.”

The senators’ letter to the FTC addressed another thorny issue: whether these Juul-funded studies could be considered a form of advertising.

“As you have likely seen in your investigation, Juul has a well-earned reputation for deceptive marketing tactics towards youth and adults, particularly adult smokers,” they wrote.

In an attempt to get the agency to investigate Juul’s “baseless claims” about its products’ safety, both senators urged the FTC to comb through the company’s marketing material over the years, both in print and online. In fact, this is data that the FTC’s been after for months, ever since the agency issued investigative orders into the marketing practices of five separate e-cig companies—including Juul—this past March.

The new letter from Blumenthal and Warren also asks the FTC whether any of the research that’s been collected thus far has been shared with the FDA ahead of the Sept. 9 deadline.

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