(Reuters) - North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein on Tuesday launched a state-wide investigation into e-cigarette maker Puff Bar, citing concerns over kid-friendly flavors and youth marketing.
Stein also filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc founders James Monsees and Adam Bowen, seeking civil penalties and damages, alleging they personally participated in Juul's marketing strategy of attracting young users to their product.
The probe also takes aim at other companies that manufacture tobacco-free cigarettes and at retailers across the state that sell flavored e-cigarettes, including many located near schools.
Puff Bar, a brand of disposable e-cigarettes that are sold in various flavors including "Blueberry Ice", and Juul did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.
Teenage use of e-cigarettes has surged in recent years, largely coinciding with a rise in Juul's popularity in 2017 and 2018, prompting a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on fruit and mint flavors in early 2020.
"The market Juul created still exists, and other companies are filling the vacuum," Stein said in a statement. Federal survey data from 2020 showed that the impact of a decline in Juul's popularity in 2019, was offset by increases in use of other brands.
Stein also urged FDA Commissioner Nominee Robert Califf to create national, industry-wide regulations on e-cigarette flavors.
(Reporting by Deborah Sophia in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)