A former senior vice president for global finance at Juul, the nation’s most prominent maker of e-cigarettes, recently filed a whistleblower lawsuit. He claims he was fired in retaliation for objecting to illegal and unsafe conduct at the company.
In particular, he claims that Juul shipped at least a million contaminated nicotine pods, along with others that were expired. And, he says that when the contamination problem was revealed in March, Juul refused to recall them.
He quotes Juul’s then-chief executive as defending the decision to ship the contaminated pods by saying, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping” and therefore would not “notice the quality of our pods.” The former CEO denies he said such a thing, however, and Juul disputes the man’s claims.
According to the alleged whistleblower’s account, the decision to ship expired and contaminated nicotine pods was practical. Last November, Juul succumbed to pressure from the FDA and agreed to stop selling most flavored pods in retail stores. This was meant to keep products with a potential to attract young people from being easily available.
Without access to flavors like Juul’s top-seller, mango, consumers began focusing on the two non-tobacco flavors still available in stores: menthol and mint. Ultimately, demand began to exceed supply.
The whistleblower says that Juul immediately put pressure on its suppliers to produce more of the menthol and mint-flavored pods. In March, the whistleblower says he learned that 250,000 mint-flavored retail kits, or one million pods, were contaminated but were nevertheless shipped to retailers. He does not detail what the contamination was.
Juul was made aware of the contamination problem, he says, and he was told to charge the supplier $7 million to allow Juul to respond to any issues. When the whistleblower urged the company’s chief financial officer to recall the contaminated pods or issue a product safety warning, no action was taken. A week later, he was fired.
Juul is already under investigation
Several government regulators, including the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission, are already investigating Juul, primarily on two allegations. First, some suspect the company intentionally sold pods in sweet flavors in order to entice teens to vape. Second, Juul allegedly advertised its vaping products as much safer than cigarettes, or even “totally safe,” without the science to back up those claims.
As incidents of vaping-related harm continue to surface, many people have been tempted to think that only off-brand or illegal THC vaporizers are involved. If Juul did ship contaminated or expired pods to retailers, however, people using this mainstream brand could potentially also be injured.