Two Democratic senators have called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate the unusual move by e-cigarette maker Juul Labs to buy out an entire edition of an academic journal, before a critical decision on the company’s products.
As the Perspective reported last month, Juul paid $ 51,000 to the American Journal of Health Behaviors to place 11 studies that made up their May-June issue. The 26 named co-authors of the studies were either employees of Juul at the time of the research or consultants working under contract with Juul. The studies aimed to prove Juul’s claim that e-cigarettes help distract smokers from combustible tobacco products, thereby providing a public health benefit. (Juul’s aggressive marketing to young people, which increased e-cigarette consumption and nicotine addiction among those who were not previously smokers, was not addressed in the articles.)
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Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) note in their letters that the purchase of the academic journal is part of Juul’s “all-out campaign” to gain FDA approval for keep their products on store shelves. The agency is to decide by September 9 whether Juul’s electronic cigarettes are “appropriate for the protection of public health” and therefore authorized for consumer use.
“The tobacco industry has a decades-long history of misleading the public and public health officials about the dangers of its products,” write Warren and Blumenthal, “and this seems to be another example of the heinous behavior of industry. “
While Juul positions itself as an opponent of Big Tobacco and an antidote to its ravages, the company is partly owned by Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes.
Although the American Journal of Health Behaviors consistently asking its authors to pay for publication, a growing trend in academic publishing, the special issue has taken things to a new level, with far-reaching consequences. Most of the associate editors linked to the review had no idea that Juul was sponsoring the edition until it was published. At least three members of the editorial board have resigned and a source informed the Perspective that two others also resigned. Elbert Glover, the newspaper’s editor, retired after the issue appeared and sold the publication.
Glover did not inform the peer reviewers assigned to the studies that Juul had paid for the entire issue, and when they found out, several dropped out of the work review; Glover hired other reviewers for a fee of $ 75, which is not a common practice. The names of the examiners were not disclosed.
Warren and Blumenthal told the FDA in their letter that the agency “should not be swayed by a long-standing tobacco industry public relations tactic of disguising interested industry research as academic research. impartial “. He also asks how the FDA identifies and deals with potential conflicts of interest when reviewing the scientific evidence of companies’ applications to market their products, whether it has received any complaints about Juul during the review process, and whether it has received any complaints about Juul during the review process. contacted Juul and other companies. on their self-funded research.
The separate letter to the FTC emphasizes the agency’s role in regulating advertising. The FTC has investigated Juul’s 2015-2018 marketing data, but has so far taken no enforcement action against the company. In addition, the FTC has Section 5 authority it could use to sanction any business engaging in “unfair or deceptive acts and practices” that could mislead consumers.
“As you have probably seen in your survey, Juul has a well-deserved reputation for its deceptive marketing tactics towards young people and adults, especially adult smokers,” Warren and Blumenthal write to FTC President Lina Khan. , asking him to take action against Juul to “perpetuate[ing] unsubstantiated claims about the safety of its product.
At the root of this is whether the studies funded by Juul qualify as a form of advertising, which is an open question. As they were submitted to an academic journal with full disclosures on their funding, the experts consulted by the Perspective suggested that Juul would be clear about the advertising law. If these studies were cited in other promotional materials, however, that could be a different story, and Warren and Blumenthal picked up on that, asking the FTC if it would view such quotes as deceptive practice. Finally, senators asked if the FTC’s study of Juul’s marketing practices had been shared with the FDA as it made its decision to keep e-cigarettes on the market.
“We encourage the Commission to address this potential manipulation of the scientific record in its ongoing investigation and to consider all appropriate enforcement measures to deter e-cigarette manufacturers from manipulating consumers,” the senators write.
Any attention to Juul’s PR campaign to protect its business model is likely hampering the company’s prospects of a favorable FDA ruling. And with the recently installed FTC Chairman Khan keen to revitalize law enforcement and act aggressively against corporate power and influence, there may be no no other outcome that Juul would want to avoid further.
Read the letters to the FDA and FTC below: