Why Keith Ellison’s attack on Juul could backfire

In a case currently on trial, Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison is seeking $100 million in damages from Juul for

unlawfully targeting young people to get a new generation addicted to nicotine

According to Ellison, Juul

baited, deceived, and addicted a whole new generation of kids after Minnesotans slashed youth smoking rates down to the lowest level in a generation.


Juul wiped out the work of our state with their slick products, clever ads, and attractive flavors.

This is not Juul’s first case in the country. The company has faced 39 other lawsuits in the US, most of which have resulted in settlements.

Is Ellison right in attacking Juul?

Whether Juul specifically targeted kids to use vaping is hard to prove. But a lot of evidence does seem to indicate that adults who wish to quit smoking usually prefer e-cigarettes that come in flavors that are different from tobacco. So that might be the reason why e-cigarettes come in such ‘attractive’ flavors.

Evidence on tobacco use, however, seems to indicate that generally, tobacco use among Minnesota youth — as of 2020 — has been on a straight decline since 2000, that is even after accounting for e-cigarettes. In fact, e-cigarette use seems to be correlated with low use of traditional cigarettes, potentially since the two act as substitutes.

American Experiment reported in 2021 that

Current cigarette use declined by 90.1 percent among high school students and 78.0
percent for middle school students between 2000 and 2020. Even after accounting for e-cigarettes, reported use of tobacco products among youths was significantly down in 2020 — to 20.5 percent among high school students and to 4.1 percent among middle schoolers — compared to 2000’s rates of 38.7 percent and 12.6 percent.

And contrary to some opinions, e-cigarettes have not proved to be a gateway to cigarette smoking for the youth. In fact, cigarette use initiation, as indicated by rates of ever use, has continued to go down even after the introduction of e-cigarettes.

Ellison’s attack on Juul might backfire

To an extent that kids who would otherwise not smoke or vape were attracted to e-cigarettes, that would be problematic.

Evidence, however, suggests that e-cigarettes act more as a substitute for cigarette smoking. So, it is highly likely that vaping attracts kids who already smoke, or were bound to start smoking.

Generally, flavors are not a big contributing factor to youth vaping. So, fighting against e-cigarette flavors is unlikely to yield positive results.

However, given that e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes are substitutes, Ellison’s attack on Juul, if it succeeds in restricting the supply of e-cigarettes might push more Minnesota youth into smoking traditional combustible cigarettes. E-cigarettes are, however, safer than traditional cigarettes, even according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website.