Fairfield reps credited in state's Juul investigation efforts

FAIRFIELD — Local representatives have been credited in the state’s decision to launch an investigation into e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced Wednesday the state would look into Juul’s smoking cessation claims. The nation’s leading anti-smoking and heart and lung associations have called on the FDA to investigate whether Juul is unlawfully marketing itself as a smoking cessation device when it has not been granted FDA approval as such.

“They’re asking the FDA to take action,” Tong said. “We’re not waiting on the federal government. Connecticut is taking action today.”

Tong described vaping as an epidemic affecting young people everywhere, citing statistics stating 20 percent of high schoolers and 5 percent of middle schoolers in America vape. With Juul controlling 70 to 90 percent of the market, Tong sees an investigation into the company as imperative.

“Connecticut is today taking aggressive action to protect children and families across Connecticut and across this country,” he said.

Tong credited Representative Town Meeting member Nancy Lefkowitz, a Democrat running for selectman alongside incumbent First Selectman Michael Tetreau, with initiating this investigation. He pointed to her work as an example of the importance of local involvement in state politics.

“If you ever wondered whether it makes any difference to call your state (representatives), you don’t have to wonder anymore,” he said. “Look no further than Nancy Lefkowitz.”

Lefkowitz, Tong explained, reached out to him over a year ago and laid out the damages that the vaping epidemic has caused in Fairfield and across southwestern Connecticut.

“It’s because Nancy directed my attention to this issue that we’ve spent the last year preparing for this investigation,” he said.

State Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, who has advocated for vaping policy changes, also took the floor at Wednesday’s announcement. As a Fairfield representative and co-chair of Fairfield Cares Community Coalition, the town’s substance misuse prevention council, she spoke to the importance of tackling the issue locally.

“The message that I hope to get out to parents and young people is (that vaping) isn’t safe for young people,” Vahey said.

A Juul Labs spokesperson issued a statement on the investigation, highlighting the company’s commitment to halting youth usage and claiming while Juul is not a smoking cessation product, it presents an alternative to cigarettes.

“We share the Attorney General’s concerns about youth vaping, which is why we welcome the opportunity to share information about our commitment to eliminate combustible cigarettes and our aggressive, industry-leading actions to combat youth usage,” the statement read. “To be clear — the Juul system is a switching product designed to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes to an alternative nicotine delivery.”

“We look forward to a productive dialogue as we continue to combat youth usage and help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes,” the statement added.

Last month, a Fairfield County resident sued Juul, claiming his addiction to the product led him to have a massive stroke in 2017. Maxwell Berger, 22, filed a lawsuit on July 8 in San Francisco County Superior Court, saying he first became addicted to the product his senior year of high school.

The suit claims Berger’s Juul addiction led to a hemorrhagic stroke that left him with left-side paralysis, speech impairment and a 50-percent loss of vision in both eyes.