Speaking to “CBS This Morning,” Kevin Burns addressed the series of vaping-related lung illnesses reported in at least 22 states that have resulted in dozens of hospitalizations and at least one death.
The cases are “worrisome for the category,” Burns told the outlet. “Worrisome for us if we contributed to it.”
Though state and federal health agencies — namely the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — are investigating the cases, it’s not yet clear what may be behind the illness or if they are related to Juul devices, specifically.
“We’d like to get all the specifics that we can. We want to make sure we have access to the information, so if there’s any issue that was driven, associated with us, that we can get to the root cause and understand that,” Burns said, noting Juul is in “close contact” with the CDC as it investigates the mysterious illnesses.
When asked by “CBS This Morning” co-host Tony Dokupil why Juul isn’t planning to “take a timeout” from distributing its products as the investigation continues, Burns noted some of those sickened across the states also reported vaping THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” sensation, prior to their hospitalization.
“Most of them that have any specifics have said they’re related to THC,” Burns said. “We don’t have the details on all those reports.”
That said, “if there was any indication that there was an adverse health condition related to our product, I think we’d take very swift action associated with it,” he added.
Burns noted he plans to keep Juul products on the market “until we see some facts.”
Burns joined Juul in 2017, about two years after the company was launched. Juul’s products, which make up about 40 percent of the e-cigarette industry, were created to help adults quit smoking.
In July, Burns apologized to parents whose children are addicted to the Juuls.
“First of all, I’d tell them that I’m sorry that their child’s using the product,” Burns told CNBC for the documentary, “Vaporized: America’s E-cigarette Addiction.”
“It’s not intended for them. I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them,” Burns added. “As a parent of a 16-year-old, I’m sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges they’re going through.”
Juul has been slammed in recent months due to the product’s popularity among teens.
In June, San Francisco took a step to curb teen vaping addiction by banning the sales of e-cigarettes. Critics said Juul contributed to the vaping epidemic by promoting its products through advertising campaigns showing young models.
The negative health effects associated with cigarettes and cigars have long been documented, leading to a decline in both among teens in the U.S. in recent years.
In 2018, for example, the CDC reported roughly 1 in 50 – about 1.8 percent – middle school students said they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, down from 4.3 percent in 2011 and a drastic decrease from 36.4 percent in 1997, when rates “peaked after increasing throughout the first half of the 1990s,” according to the American Lung Association.
But the same is not true for e-cigarette use. In 2018, nearly 1 of every 20 middle school students (4.9 percent) reported using electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days. That’s an increase from less than 1 percent in 2011.
Last year, the Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams, declared vaping among American teens an “epidemic.”
“This is an unprecedented challenge,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in response at the time.
Though e-cigarettes are often touted as a “safer” alternative to cigarettes, a recent study found that may not be true.
The study, led by University of Pennsylvania researchers, claimed there are damaging effects on a user’s blood vessels after just one use.
Fox Business’ Katherine Lam contributed to this report.