How the founders of PAV JUUL . fought with

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As Meredith Berkman and Dorian Fuhrman, . two co-founders of Parents Against Vaping E-Cigarettes (PAVe) Likes to put it, “Big Tobacco messed with the wrong moms.” Along with their friend Dina Alesi, these New York City moms created PAVe in April 2018 as a grassroots response to the youth vaping epidemic that has affected millions of American families. The catalyst was their discovery that a JUUL representative had entered their sons’ high school through an outside anti-drug group, without the school’s knowledge, and told a gathering of 9th graders that JUUL “completely safe” and would receive FDA approval “any day.” His congressional testimony about the incident – ​​and that of Berkman’s son Caleb Mintz and Furman’s son Philippe – was cited by the FDA as evidence that JUUL marketed its highly addictive e-cigarettes to children. .


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Creating the first national parent’s voice in the fight against the tobacco industry was never part of the plan. While scouring the internet for information about JUUL, sitting together around their kitchen table, they realized that the wildly successful company was using social media to target teens with a product whose flavor The pods contain more nicotine than an entire package of cigarettes. And he learned that juvenile usage was so widespread that “JUULing” had become a verb. He launched a website to educate parents like himself about a teen public-health crisis that was still very much under the radar. Within hours, he began receiving emails from people across the country whose JUUL-dependent children were suffering from extreme nicotine addiction – they were also angry at JUUL but these parents were asking for help. Women realized they needed to take action – and that meant fighting for laws to protect children from e-cigarettes.

“We’d prefer to join a group like ours rather than start one,” says Berkman, explaining that she and her friends searched in vain for moms-against-drunk-driving-of-vaping. “This crisis chose us, not the other way around. We are casual workers,” Furman said. “We just knew we couldn’t allow JUUL after kids.”

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From there the matter intensified. The moms began meeting with pediatricians, addiction psychiatrists, and other specialists in their own backyards, and built up from there, with and between institutions and researchers from Stanford Medical School to the Harvard School of Public Health, across the country. Build a significant partnership. (The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Truth Initiative, a longtime pioneer in tobacco control, became early supporters after moms stumbled upon them during a Google search.) On their way to Washington, D.C. with their sons, they Met any elected officials who would listen and eventually accompany FDA leadership, sounding the alarm about youth vaping but also requesting that his JUUL in-school story be kept confidential. They knew it would have maximum impact if the company did not have time to prepare a response. The right moment to go public came in July 2019 when Congressman Raja Krishnamurthy (D-Illinois), chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economics and Consumer Policy, led a two-day hearing about JUUL that included Berkman, Furman and their sons. Were. Witnesses who shed an ugly light on JUUL’s targeting of young people. (In addition to getting admission in high schools, JUUL also ran summer camps for young children.)

The hearing—and Caleb and Philippe’s testimony in particular—created a firestorm of negative international publicity that burned JUUL’s techno-chic reputation and severely damaged Unicorn’s vast bottom line. PAVe’s army of passionate parents continued to grow, and Furman and Berkman (who are also full-time volunteers) continued to expand their agile volunteer-run nonprofit, which today includes both advocacy (501C4) and education (501C3) initiatives. (Later efforts were led by founding partner Miriam Boblick who also donates his time.)

Last month PAV’s second annual “Clear the Vapor” conference, co-sponsored by CVS Health, is a marker of the group’s organic, ongoing success. Virtual and free so it will remain highly accessible to parents, the event has more than 2,000 participants providing fellow parents, educators, public-health advocates and nationally elected officials all aspects of youth tobacco use. Looking forward to hearing from the deep dive in.

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“This is a call-to-action for parents like us who want to save the next generation from becoming Big Tobacco’s lifelong customers,” said Alessi, who works in private equity and moderated a panel about Why tobacco investments are inconsistent with ESG principles.

Meanwhile, as PAVE seeks to “move the goalposts” with regional and national webinars and parent virtual and personal testimony at state and federal hearings, in Baublik’s words, youth vaping rage continues. Its growth has outstripped federal action limiting teens’ access to flavored e-cigarettes, including JUUL, Puffbar, and other major industry players, which remain on the market without full regulation. This is despite a federal court order requiring the FDA to finish reviewing these products by September 2021, a regulatory process already delayed for years. In late May, the FDA filed court papers saying it would further postpone the completion of the process until July 2023. (PAVe is currently weighing legal options.)

When asked what lessons they learned during their journey, Berkman and Furman offered the following:

follow your instincts

The day after they discovered that a JUUL representative had informed a ninth grade gathering of their sons – without other adults – that JUUL was “absolutely safe”, Berkman, Furman and Alessi kept the shocking incident a secret. promised. “We knew we would testify about it before Congress,” she says. “To this day, we don’t know why.”

Be kind, humble and fearless

We would be nowhere without the wisdom, generosity and participation of our partners in tobacco control. We are good listeners who know what we don’t know – and are grateful to those who are willing to teach us.

There is no shame in addiction

If it wasn’t for our kids, we wouldn’t have known what happened at school that day. And if our children are not honest about their smoking habits, PAV may not be able to deliver on the initiatives we are working on. Being honest and transparent about your experiences and your journey—no matter how painful it may be personally, is the key to success.

Meredith says, “In 2018, we never saw ourselves as a social entrepreneur or a disruptor. Today, we can’t see ourselves any other way. PAV is a call to action for all those who care about our children.” Ko from becoming a lifelong customer of Big Tobacco. While we are sick that this is a growing epidemic, we are grateful that our network of volunteers is growing to help us fight a good fight.