Juul Labs launches national lobbying push as federal and provincial governments consider new vaping regulations

Iain Sherriff-Scott/The Logic

Vaping giant Juul Labs has deployed 19 lobbyists across Canada over the last year to introduce federal and provincial officials to the company, its products, and to discuss rules around vaping.

The company’s government relations push comes as Health Canada is considering new regulations on where vaping products can be advertised, as well as on how they must be labelled, and as advocacy groups push provincial governments to impose taxes and stricter rules on where and how e-cigarettes can be sold.

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Talking Point

Juul Labs has registered 19 lobbyists to communicate with federal and provincial officials across Canada on vaping rules over the last year. The San Francisco-headquartered firm’s government relations push comes as policymakers are considering restrictions on advertising, labelling and the sale of flavoured products, as well as raising the legal age for vaping.

Juul makes e-cigarettes and liquid pods in a variety of flavours. The devices and refills are sold at convenience stores and specialty tobacco and vaping shops. Juul also sells directly to customers everywhere in Canada except Quebec through its site. It opened its first Toronto retail store in July.

Federally, Juul wants to talk to officials about “vaping regulations under the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act.” The law, passed in May 2018, legalized the sale of vaping products and e-cigarettes containing nicotine. 

In February, Health Canada proposed new regulations such as banning vaping advertisements on public transit, billboards and social media, and said it was considering a ban on displaying them at check-out in stores that allow children. And, in June, it proposed changes requiring that products containing nicotine be labelled with the concentration of the substance and a warning about its addictiveness. Those changes were designed to curb youth vaping.

The company launched in Canada in August 2018. Consultants from StrategyCorp, one of Canada’s top government relations firms, registered to lobby federal officials on Juul’s behalf the month prior. 

The San Francisco-headquartered firm has also built out an in-house lobbying team in Canada since then. In October 2018, it hired Nick Kadysh—a former policy executive at General Electric and Red Bull and ex-staffer for both the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and federal Conservatives—as director of government affairs. And, in February, it appointed senior regional managers for government affairs in Montreal and Vancouver.

Juul has lobbied the federal government 16 times since August 2018, including five communications with senior policy advisers to Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor. It’s also lobbied staff to Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, as well as members of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu.

Petitpas Taylor’s office did not provide details about her staff’s meetings with Juul, referring The Logic to the federal lobbying registry. “We share the concerns that many Canadians – particularly parents – have about vaping, which is why we took action to protect our youth by banning vaping products for those under 18, prohibiting the promotion of certain flavours and restricting ads aimed at youth,” said Thierry Bélair, the minister’s press secretary.

Juul did not answer questions from The Logic about its lobbying activity in Canada, including what changes to legislation or regulation it had sought in communications with government officials. “We engage with decision-makers at the federal and provincial level to help promote policies which further our mission of improving the lives of adult smokers by eliminating combustible cigarettes, while limiting appeal and access to youth,” said Lisa Hutniak, director of communications for Juul in Canada.

In July, Juul said it backed a social media advertising ban, but that Health Canada’s point-of-sale rules would prevent it from offering adult smokers what it says is a less harmful alternative to cigarettes when they are buying those at a convenience store. It is testing an app-connected device that allows users to monitor their vaping.  

The company’s consultants are also registered to communicate with eight provincial governments on its technology and efforts to deter youth vaping, as well as specific pieces of legislation affecting the practice.

Juul has backed tighter vaping restrictions in some areas. It’s called for the Quebec government to amend legislation raising the legal age of cannabis consumption from 18 years old to 21 to extend the rule change to vaping. The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) has pushed the Saskatchewan government to make the same change.

Provincial governments report fewer meetings with Juul than the company has had in Ottawa. In August 2018, its consultants met with British Columbia health ministry officials to discuss strategies to reduce youth vaping the same month. They also had introductory conversations with officials in the Ontario health ministry and staff in the offices of Saskatchewan’s premier and health minister, spokespeople for those governments told The Logic.  

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has asked the federal government to impose caps on nicotine concentration in e-cigarettes and restrictions on the sale of flavoured vaping products, and said he will act if Ottawa does not. His statement came in response to a British Medical Journal study in which 14.6 per cent of 2018 respondents aged 16 to 19 reported vaping in the previous month, compared to 8.4 per cent in 2017. The opposition B.C. Liberals had proposed a ban on flavoured vape products in April. Juul pulled non-tobacco-flavoured pods from brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. in November 2018.

Saskatchewan and Alberta are the only two provinces that have not passed vaping legislation. In June, New West Public Affairs—which is run by former Conservative MP Monte Solberg, who served in the federal cabinet alongside current Alberta Premier Jason Kenney—registered to lobby Alberta officials for Juul. Kenney’s United Conservative campaign has said it will not impose a tax on e-cigarettes; Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-tobacco pressure group, had called for such a levy. 

Juul is also registered to lobby provincial officials in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. The premiers’ offices in those provinces did not respond to questions from The Logic about their meetings with Juul and other vaping companies. 

Juul isn’t the only company lobbying Canadian governments on vaping. Rothmans, Benson & Hedges—the Canadian unit of Philip Morris International—is registered federally to communicate on Bill S-5, the legislation that amended the tobacco laws to include vaping. 

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Imperial Tobacco Canada—which distributes the Marlboro brand domestically and makes the Vype e-cigarette—is also interested in Bill S-5, according to its registration. The company has run advertising in Toronto subway stations and mobile billboards, which would be banned under the proposed federal regulations. 

Over the last year, Imperial Tobacco has communicated with officials in the health, finance and innovation departments, as well as staff in the PMO and the Treasury Board Secretariat. It’s also registered to lobby officials in Ontario on vaping regulations; in Quebec on tobacco taxes; and in Alberta and Manitoba on tobacco smuggling.

Neither Imperial nor Rothmans responded to multiple requests for comment. 

In December 2018, Juul was valued at US$38 billion following a US$12.8-billion investment from tobacco giant Altria, which estimates that Juul has more than 40 per cent of the e-cigarette market. On Monday, Axios reported Juul had raised an additional US$325 million ahead of a planned international expansion.