Critics feel the move is an attempt to control the research surrounding e-cigarettes and teen nicotine use.
The e-cigarette giant Juul Labs has appointed a former critic best known for researching the dangers of nicotine for teens brains as its new medical director, prompting skepticism from people concerned about the company’s targeting of young users.
Pediatrician Mark Rubinstein became Juul’s executive medical officer last week. Previously, Rubinstein was a lead researcher at the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
He has spoken about the dangers of vaping for teens, so his alignment with a company known for being popular among teenagers was very surprising to many who know him.
“Even if you believe in harm reduction, to go work for a tobacco company… to me goes against everything that anybody doing control should believe in,” Stanford University professor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher told Kaiser Health News. Halpern-Felsher trained Rubinstein during his time at UCSF.
Teen Vaping Epidemic
The FDA has proclaimed that e-cigarette use among teens is an epidemic, with 20% of high schoolers trying the products last year.
Juul Labs claims that it hired Rubinstein as part of its effort to reduce teen use of its product. However, many experts are not convinced that Juul—which holds 70% of the American market for e-cigarettes—has the greater good in mind.
“Part of Juul’s strategy is to create credibility and buy influence by hiring everybody who would take their money. We shouldn’t be fooled: Juul created the youth e-cigarette epidemic and refuses to take responsibility for it,” said Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids spokesperson Vince Willmore.
Some people feel that Juul’s employment of Rubinstein is an attempt to control the research surrounding e-cigarettes and teen nicotine use.
Director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Stanton Glantz, said he felt “shocked and depressed” about Rubinstein joining Juul.
Critics of the appointment say that Juul is acting like Big Tobacco, which controlled the narrative and research around cigarettes for decades.
“I understand why scientists are concerned about a program like this, and I think they should be,” said George Washington University professor David Michaels, who has studied corporate influence on science and research.
John Schachter, with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, “To us, Juul is Big Tobacco 2.0.” He pointed out that the company has sponsored legislation that it says would reduce teen nicotine use, but that opponents say would remove local government controls over restrictions on e-cigarette products.