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A multi-state settlement with electronic cigarette maker Juul might not contain an outright admission by the company that it deliberately targeted kids with advertising and candy-flavored vaping liquids as a way to get them hooked on nicotine. But the terms of the settlement make pretty clear exactly what Juul did and what kinds of damage it caused to millions of lives.

Now the company will pay — and justifiably so — for having put the pursuit of profits above the welfare of children and will have to embark on an expensive campaign to turn kids away from the very vaping devices Juul marketed with them in mind. How outrageous was Juul’s targeting of children? According to a 2020 lawsuit, Juul paid to advertise on Seventeen.com, Nickjr.com and Cartoonnetwork.com.

Even then-President Donald Trump, rarely known to side against big business billionaires, found Juul’s and other nicotine marketers’ behavior so egregious that he signed a law in 2019 raising the age from 18 to 21 to legally purchase vaping and tobacco products. Now Juul will pay close to $440 million to 33 states that went after the company. Colorado, unfortunately, is not listed among them.

Cigarette smoking has seen a steep decline in the years since Big Tobacco was forced into a multibillion-dollar settlement to help pay for the health damage caused by their products over many decades. But since their business hinges not so much on tobacco as the highly addictive nicotine that drove millions of people to smoke, Big Tobacco also has turned to vaping as a way to salvage a lucrative business model. They joined Juul in nationwide marketing campaigns touting vaping as a safer way to enjoy smoking.

In other words, it’s a smoke-free way for addicts to get their nicotine fix.

Although the Juul settlement puts a significant dent in the nicotine-addiction industry, there’s still a long way to go before the industry is held fully accountable for its ongoing, deliberate effort to get more Americans hooked and keep them hooked to help perpetuate a billion-dollar industry. It ranks along with opioid producers among the most predatory and despicable legal businesses in existence.

Studies indicate nicotine is as addictive as cocaine or heroin, which makes it doubly appalling that any company would target their products at kids.

Juul only launched its vaping product in 2015, but in that short span, it gained a 75% share of the vaping industry, only to drop back to control about a third of the market amid a succession of costly lawsuits. The American Lung Association says Big Tobacco is stepping into Juul’s vacuum with more campaigns aimed at kids while marketing vaping products to adults as a safe alternative to tobacco.

By any other name, they are still just selling nicotine addiction, which makes them no less pernicious than a street-corner drug dealer.

—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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