from the buy-yourself-an-alternate-reality dept
One-time darling in the e-cigarette space, Juul, has witnessed an absolutely stunning collapse. The one-two punch of a rash of mysterious deaths and illnesses linked to nicotine vaping, compounded by an investigation into the company’s dodgy marketing to teenagers, has resulted in the company’s market share in e-cigarettes dropping from around 75 percent at its peak to 42 percent today. And depending on an upcoming FDA ruling, the company could soon see its products banned in the US entirely.
Juul is sparing no expense to try and convince the FDA to keep its products on store shelves. Buried in a New York Times report on the looming FDA decision was an interesting nugget: namely that the company had paid $51,000 for a month of favorable coverage in the American Journal of Health Behavior:
“…it paid $51,000 to have the entire May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior devoted to publishing 11 studies funded by the company offering evidence that Juul products help smokers quit. (A spokesman for Juul said the editors had rejected one of the company?s submissions.) That fee included an extra $6,500 to have the subscription journal open access to everyone.”
Three editorial board members of the journal in question resigned over the bizarre and cozy arrangement. David Dayen at the American Prospect took a deeper look and found an additional stunning revelation: of the 26 named co-authors on the 11 studies Juul funded and included in the journal, every last one was financially linked to Juul in some capacity:
“18 of the co-authors are either current full-time employees of Juul, or were full-time employees at the time they conducted the research. Five others are consultants with PinneyAssociates, working ?on an exclusive basis to Juul Labs.? And the final three, who co-authored one of the 11 studies, are employees of the Centre for Substance Use Research, an ?independent? consultancy that designed that study under a contract with ? Juul Labs.”
Granted our apathy to the steadily eroding line between expertise (journalism, academia, science) and marketing and lobbying is certainly nothing new. In this case not only were all of the authors and editors financially linked to Juul in some way, the studies were all funded by Juul, and the internal editor of the purportedly objective journal was under contract with Juul as a consultant through PinneyAssociates. Again, that only three people at the journal found this gross or disqualifying (or at least were willing to act on those beliefs) makes it very clear how normalized this sort of stuff has become.
As long as there’s some form of mouse print disclosure, none of this violates existing advertising law. As Dayen notes, in academic and scientific circles, the whole thing is a perfectly normalized circle of grift, influence, and illusion:
“There are multiple rip-offs going on here at once. Academics are desperate to publish in journals to prove to their universities that they are working diligently. Corporations recognize the opportunity to underwrite research and produce independent validation of their goals. And they turn around and use that research to persuade policymakers, who presume themselves sophisticated about spotting fake research, but probably are not.”
In a bit of added irony given all of the shenanigans surrounding scientific journal public access, it turned out that part of the $51,000 fee Juul paid to effectively rent this journal for a month included a $6,500 fee to unlock the entire journal for public access. The Journal’s fee schedule shows how authors pay $895 per article, a fee that jumps to $1,595 should you want your article freely available to the public. Obviously that’s a paradigm that harms transparency and favors those who can afford it, like, say, large corporations eager to exploit sagging US standards to impact discourse and influence policymakers.