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Juul Is an Easy Target—Let’s Ban More Tech Products That Harm Us

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Juul Is an Easy Target—Let’s Ban More Tech Products That Harm Us

Juul Is an Easy Target—Let's Ban More Tech Products That Harm Us

On Wednesday, there was a great disturbance on Twitter, as if thousands of writers suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced: the Food and Drug Administration is reportedly preparing to ban Juul Labs Inc. e-cigarettes in the United States.

Why Juul and not, say, any other e-cigarette company? Or why not the entire vaping industry? It ultimately boils down to the fact that our regulators are unambitious cowards. Like many companies, such as Uber, Juul enjoyed early success because it brazenly broke laws. In Juul’s case, it advertised its products to children before pivoting and advertising its products as a way for adults to quit smoking. It packaged this regulatory arbitrage—when companies gain an edge by staying a step ahead of the law—with a sleek device; the classic “move fast and break things” tech playbook. 

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Ultimately, Juul is an easy target, and many other companies perpetuating various harms perhaps even more widely than Juul—considering its recently slumping sales—deserve the same treatment from regulators. 

For close to a decade after their launch in the 2000s, e-cigarettes, vapes, and other electronic nicotine and tobacco products were largely unregulated products. Regulations slowly caught up over the years—the passage of the Phillip Morris-backed 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products, but also grandfathered in pre-existing tobacco products and effectively protected existing tobacco companies from competing against alternatives—culminating in 2016, when the FDA published a rule classifying electronic nicotine delivery systems (e-cigs, vape pens, etc.) as tobacco products. Manufacturers were given until May 2018 to keep selling before they’d be required to submit applications or face removal from the US market, which was delayed to September 2020. In the meantime, tobacco giant Altria Group (the parent company of Phillip Morris) acquired a 35 percent stake in Juul for $12.8 billion in 2018.

Juul’s troubles began shortly after, quickly becoming a main target for regulators. In 2018, the company (which then controlled nearly 80 percent of the e-cig market) caught the FDA’s attention thanks in part to the revelation that it was targeting minors with advertising on children’s websites as well as with the introduction of fruity, candy, dessert, and other sweet flavors. This, along with the rapid growth of teenage vaping, raised fears that it could potentially reverse progress made in cutting underage smoking by increasing nicotine dependence or leading to later cigarette use, all without a concrete understanding of long-term effects on health. 

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Still, in a bid to please regulators over the next two years, Juul pulled back its advertising targeting children, stopped selling its child-friendly flavors, and submitted a 125,000 page application for its tobacco products (specifically a menthol and a tobacco-flavored e-cigarette) to remain on the market. All of it appears to have been for nought: while Juul will appeal the decision, if approved it’ll lock the company out of the market where most of its sales are.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out when reporting the move, it’s a bit of a surprise the FDA came down on Juul. Was Juul targeted because of its partial ownership by Big Tobacco? No, because Juul’s biggest rival, Reynolds American Inc., is a subsidiary of British American Tobacco—the world’s largest tobacco company. In fact, while the FTC filed an antitrust complaint against Juul alleging Altria purchased its stake in Juul with an agreement to not compete with Juul, it was dismissed by a judge this year. 

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Is it because of a desire to crack down on tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, or vaping in general? Also no, because Juul’s competitors—Reynolds American Inc. and NJOY Holdings—got approval in October 2021 and April 2022 to put their tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes on the market. It’s worth noting here that in 2019 Altria walked away from a $187 billion merger with Juul amid mounting regulatory pressure, instead deciding to bring its own vaping technology to market, which is approved by the FDA. 

The differences between Juul and its competitors are minimal at best—especially now that the sweet and fruity-flavored products once synonymous with Juul have also been banned by the FDA. Juul is reportedly being hit with a ban because it was the first to get caught and will be made an example of. But even more importantly, regulators aren’t capable of or interested in more ambitious public health measures. Whatever you think of the public health benefits of electronic nicotine in whatever form as an alternative to traditional tobacco products, the crux of the situation is this: we’ve opted to solve a political/social problem (smoking) with a technological solution (e-cigarettes) designed, developed, and distributed largely by those responsible for the problem.

This arrangement isn’t a novel one, just like Juul’s cavalier approach to becoming dominant. Pick any problem and the chances are you’ll find a technological fix offered by those responsible. 

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Take pollution, or traffic congestion, or public transit systems in large metro areas, which over the past decade have consistently gotten worse. One major reason for that trend is the expansion of app-based ride-hail platforms like Uber and Lyft. Thanks to a relatively hands-off approach by policymakers nationwide, these firms leveraged legal loopholes and investor capital in various markets to massively expand, entrench themselves elsewhere, write their own regulations to expand those loopholes, and eventually integrate themselves into a city’s transportation system. As more cars were thrown on the roads, on-demand transit was pitched as a way to circumvent the traffic jams. As urban pollution worsened because of the deluge of private vehicles and ride-hail demand, they made empty promises about transitioning their fleets to electric vehicles. As public transit systems bled riders and revenue, these firms offered to partner with public transit authorities to better optimize their systems. 

Or take Amazon. As a result of one problem it created (how to deliver things faster), the lives of millions have been warped to fit its needs. It forces back-breaking labor on workers who are injured at unprecedented rates, contributing to a turnover rate so high that Amazon internally warns it may run out of US workers in two years. Its delivery drivers are forced to meet punishing delivery schedules that all but ensure accident and injury. It hunts all over the country for sprawling warehouses to better feed and grow its logistics machine, now in a situation where it has too much property on its hands.

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Companies that led the way in creating unethical artificial intelligence products and platforms for biometric surveillance and predictive policing (Microsoft) or ecologically unsustainable language models (Google) are now touting ethical artificial intelligence teams to ostensibly reign in what they unleashed. Startups that offer financial products and platforms as a way to escape poverty or achieve financial independence, but more closely resemble casinos that impoverish traders before herding them right back inside. And when all else fails, a familiar tactic shared by Big Tech and Big Tobacco is ultimately to fund research that converges with its own talking points: we’ve seen this as companies produce research defending app-based labor platforms, business models centered on artificial intelligence, gambling as investing, and so on. 

Despite the convergence of the Big Tobacco and Big Tech playbooks, it’s an open question if policymakers will ever take any sort of action analogous to the Juul ban against companies whose harms are arguably much more widespread, and more demonstrable. At this moment, for example, a bipartisan antitrust bill aimed at stopping the largest platforms from anti-competitively self-referencing themselves is facing incoherent opposition that might derail the effort as well as a committed lobbying blitz from Amazon. 

Still, even if policymakers find it difficult to get passed laws addressing clear economic harms, that shouldn’t dissuade us from asking: Why shouldn’t we ban more tech products when they harm people?

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Uber and Lyft have degraded quality of life in urban areas, but are also intent on eviscerating labor laws to create a class of primarily Black and brown servants. Amazon leverages its ever-growing empire in market after market to push down working conditions, crush competitors, and degrade the quality of products generally. Microsoft and Google are helping police terrorize and surveil communities, as well as justify racist policing practices. 

Whether or not this or that regulatory apparatus exists to outright ban products offered by these and other tech companies doesn’t really matter here—though the work of people like FTC Chair Lina Khan’s recent actions and past work sketch a path. The real question is why we hardly ever consider that as an option. Why is so much energy spent on preserving and tinkering with various technologies despite their harm, as opposed to simply saying they must be abolished because the costs are too much to bear?

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‘Romney Republican’ now GOP primary attack…

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‘Romney Republican’ now GOP primary attack…

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mitt Romney isn’t up for reelection this year. But Trump-aligned Republicans hostile toward the Utah senator have made his name a recurring theme in this year’s primaries, using him as a foil and derisively branding their rivals “Mitt Romney Republicans.”

Republicans have used the concept to frame their primary opponents as enemies of the Trump-era GOP in southeast Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The anti-tax group Club For Growth, among the most active super PACs in this year’s primaries, used “Mitt Romney Republican” as the central premise of an attack ad in North Carolina’s Senate primary.

But nowhere are references to Romney Republicanism as common as they are in Utah. Despite his popularity with many residents here, candidates are repeatedly deploying “Mitt Romney Republican” as a campaign trail attack in the lead-up to Tuesday’s Republican primary.

“There are two different wings in the Republican Party,” Chris Herrod, a former state lawmaker running in suburban Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, said in a debate last month.

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“If you’re more aligned with Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox,” he added, referring to Utah’s governor, “then I’m probably not your guy.”

The fact that his brand has become potent attack fodder reflect how singular Romney’s position is in U.S. politics: He’s the only senator with the nationwide name recognition that comes from running for president and the only Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump twice.

“It’s kind of a puzzlement, actually,” said Becky Edwards, an anti-Trump Republican running in Utah’s Senate primary.

As one of the most famous members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney is revered by many in Utah, where the church is a dominant presence in politics and culture. He won praise for turning around Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal. After moving to Utah full-time more than a decade ago, he breezed to victory in the state’s Senate race in 2018. He did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Herrod, who went to Las Vegas to campaign for Romney in 2012, said in an interview that referring to Romney was effective shorthand — a way to tell voters about his own belief system as well as that of incumbent Republican Rep. John Curtis. Herrod has attacked Curtis for his positions on energy policy and for founding Congress’ Conservative Climate Caucus.

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“In the midst of a campaign, it’s kind of tough to draw a line. I just put it in terms I thought people would understand,” Herrod said.

The Curtis campaign said the congressman was more focused on legislation and passing bills than branding. “Congressman Curtis doesn’t spend his time labeling himself or other Republicans,” his campaign manager, Adrielle Herring, said in a statement.

Much like Herrod, Andrew Badger, a candidate running in northern Utah’s 1st Congressional District, frames his primary campaign as a “tug of war” between two competing factions within the Republican Party. He describes one as the moderate, compromise-friendly wing embodied by Romney and the other as the conservative wing embodied by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a frequent guest of FOX News who is often the Senate’s lone “no” vote.

Both Badger and Herrod acknowledge attacking Romney may turn off some voters, four years after he easily defeated a right-wing state lawmaker in Utah’s Republican primary and a Democrat in the general election. But they question the durability of his support given how the last six years have broadly transformed Republican politics.

“There’s a lot more frustration, and it’s only building. I don’t think he would win in a vote today, certainly not in a Republican primary,” Badger said.

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Badger in his campaign has focused on simmering outrage stemming from the 2020 election and anger over coronavirus mandates and how race, gender and sexuality are taught in K-12 schools. He has attempted to draw a direct line between Romney and his opponent, incumbent Rep. Blake Moore, by attacking Moore for being one of 35 House Republicans to vote to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In a district where support for Trump remains strong, he’s likened Moore’s vote to Romney’s two votes in favor of impeachment.

“These folks like Mitt Romney and Blake Moore, they always cave to the left when the pressure gets turned on them,” Badger said. “We’re not going to compromise for the sake of compromise.”

Moore did not vote for impeachment. After the Senate scuttled the commission, Moore, along with all but two House Republicans, voted against the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee that ultimately convened.

In response to Moore being labeled a “Mitt Romney Republican,” Caroline Tucker, the congressman’s campaign spokesperson, said he could be best described a “Big Tent Republican” who doesn’t think the process of lawmaking requires abandoning his conservative principles.

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Jason Perry, director of University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the label “Mitt Romney Republican” may appeal to some Republican primary voters, but given Romney’s popularity, it likely won’t work in Utah, he said.

“They’re appealing to a segment of the Republican Party but probably do not have the numbers on that far-right side to be successful,” Perry said.

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Pro-life is not just opposing abortion, Vatican says after U.S. ruling

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Pro-life is not just opposing abortion, Vatican says after U.S. ruling

Anti-abortion demonstrators and abortion rights supporters protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court the day after the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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June 25 (Reuters) – Anti-abortion activists should be concerned with other issues that can threaten life, such as easy access to guns, poverty and rising maternity mortality rates, the Vatican’s editorial director said on Saturday.

In a media editorial on the United States Supreme Court’s ruling to end the constitutional right to abortion, Andrea Tornielli said those who oppose abortion could not pick and choose pro-life issues. read more

“Being for life, always, for example, means being concerned if the mortality rates of women due to motherhood increase,” he wrote.

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He cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a rise in maternity mortality rates overall and that the rate was nearly three times higher for black women.

“Being for life, always, means asking how to help women welcome new life,” he wrote, citing an unsourced statistic that 75% of women who have abortions live in poverty or are low-wage earners.

He also cited statistics from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry showing that the United States has much lower rates of paid parental leave compared with other rich nations.

“Being for life, always, also means defending it against the threat of firearms, which unfortunately have become a leading cause of death of children and adolescents in the U.S.” he wrote.

The Roman Catholic church teaches that abortion is murder because life begins at the moment of conception and ends with natural death.

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Pope Francis has compared having an abortion to “hiring a hit man” to eliminate a problematic person.

But he has tried to steer the U.S. Catholic Church away from seeing abortion as the single, overarching life issue in the country’s so-called culture wars.

The death penalty, gun control, support for families, and immigration are also life issues, he has said.

The Vatican’s Academy for Life praised Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, saying it challenged the world to reflect on life issues, but also called for social changes to help women keep their children. read more

U.S. President Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, condemned the ruling, calling it a “sad day” for America and labelling the court’s conservatives as “extreme”.

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Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mike Harrison

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Supreme Court ‘Misleadingly Quotes Me’ in Abortion Ruling: Law Professor

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Supreme Court ‘Misleadingly Quotes Me’ in Abortion Ruling: Law Professor

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor of constitutional law, accused the conservative Supreme Court majority of “misleadingly” utilizing his quotes in its controversial Friday decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Conservative Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling in that case brought an end to nearly five decades of Supreme Court precedent—overturning the landmark 1973 Roe decision and bringing an end to woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,” Alito argued in his opinion.

Four of the top court’s justices concurred with Alito’s opinion, while Chief Justice John Roberts concurred with upholding the 15-week abortion ban of Dobbs, but took issue with fully overturning Roe. The Court’s three liberal justices together issued a dissenting opinion.

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Tribe, who has been harshly critical of the Supreme Court’s decision, said the conservative majority opinion misused his quotes to justify its arguments overturning Roe.

The Dobbs majority misleadingly quotes me on pages 50 and 54 in straining to justify a decision the dissent rightly calls an exercise in “power, not reason.” Don’t be fooled. The writings from which the Court cherry-picked my quotes were totally supportive of the result in Roe.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 25, 2022

“The Dobbs majority misleadingly quotes me on pages 50 and 54 in straining to justify a decision the dissent rightly calls an exercise in ‘power, not reason.’ Don’t be fooled. The writings from which the Court cherry-picked my quotes were totally supportive of the result in Roe,” the constitutional law expert wrote in a Friday evening Twitter post.

On page 50, the conservative majority opinion states: “As Professor Laurence Tribe has written, ‘[c]learly, this mistakes ‘a definition for a syllogism.’ Tribe 4 (quoting Ely 924). The definition of a ‘viable’ fetus is one that is capable of surviving outside the womb, but why is this the point at which the State’s interest becomes compelling?”

On page 54, it quotes Tribe again, stating: “Laurence Tribe wrote that ‘even if there is a need to divide pregnancy into several segments with lines that clearly identify the limits of governmental power, ‘interest-balancing’ of the form the Court pursues fails to justify any of the lines actually drawn.”

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Protest at Supreme Court
Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe accused the Supreme Court on Friday of misleadingly using his quotes in its majority opinion overturning “Roe v. Wade.” Above, abortion-rights demonstrators protest in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Newsweek reached out to the Supreme Court’s press office for comment.

“Three men — Presidents GHW Bush (Justice Thomas), GW Bush (Justices Alito, Roberts), Trump (Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito) — two of whom won with a minority of the popular vote — have done this to tens of millions of women and to the rule of law. This must be undone,” Tribe wrote in a follow-up Friday evening Twitter post.

Three men — Presidents GHW Bush (Justice Thomas), GW Bush (Justices Alito, Roberts), Trump (Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito) — two of whom won with a minority of the popular vote — have done this to tens of millions of women and to the rule of law. This must be undone.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 25, 2022

Protests have broken out across the country in the wake of the controversial ruling. Multiple states quickly implemented so-called “trigger laws,” which were in place and ready to go the moment Roe was overturned. Meanwhile, states that have already protected legal abortions have taken steps to make them easier to access to women traveling across state lines.

Former President Donald Trump hailed the decision and took credit, describing the ruling as “the biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation” in a statement. He said it was “only made possible because I delivered everything as promised, including nominating and getting three highly respected and strong Constitutionalists confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden slammed the decision.

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“Now, with Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” Biden said in a Friday address at the White House. The president went on to say that the nation’s top court “has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.”

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