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Juul CEO to parents of kids who vape: "I'm sorry"

  • Juul CEO Kevin Burns told CNBC he's "sorry" if children are using the electronic cigarette maker's vaping products.
  • The executive said e-cigarettes aren't aimed at young people, though critics contend the company's ads target teens.
  • San Francisco in June became the first U.S. city to ban the manufacturing and sale of e-cigarettes.

Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns has a message for parents of young people who are addicted to his company's vaping products: "I'm sorry."

Burns issued the unusual apology during a tour of a Juul plant with CNBC, which is airing a documentary on vaping on Monday night. Asked how he would defend his company's products to a parent of a child hooked on vaping, Burns said, "First of all, I'd tell them I'm sorry their child is using the product."

He added, "It's not intended for them. I hope there was nothing we did that made it appealing to them."

San Francisco bans e-cigarette sales 01:43

Critics contend Juul has targeted minors through advertising that touted sweet and fruity flavors and by using young-looking models. More than 1 in 5 high school students admitted to using an electronic cigarette within the last 30 days, a jump of more than 77 percent since 2017, according to a recent government survey. That's causing alarm among parents, schools and health experts.

On Monday, acting FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement that the agency "stands ready to accelerate the review of e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products." He made the statement in response to a recent federal court ruling that orders the FDA to require e-cigarette companies to implement a 10-month deadline for the submission of e-cigarette applications.

Juul has taken some steps to limit its appeal to teens. Last year, the company shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts and also cut off its supply of certain flavored pods to more than 90,000 retailers.

Burns said Juul's electronic products help smokers wean themselves off normal cigarettes. "We are having a significant impact on driving the consumption of cigarettes down in the United States," he told CNBC.

Former FDA commissioner on vaping concerns 02:25

But others aren't so sure. Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and physician Scott Gottlieb told the network that many consumers don't fully switch from cigarettes.

"They engage in dual use, and we are not sure that provides a health benefit," he noted.

San Francisco — where Juul is headquartered — is taking a stand against vaping. In June, it became the first city in the nation to impose a total ban on e-cigarettes, including the manufacturing and sale of vaping products.

Juul, which is partly owned by tobacco company Altria, was spun off as a separate company from vaporizer maker Pax Labs in 2017. Juul had revenue of about $2 billion last year and has an estimated 72% of the fast-growing vaping market.

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