Juul let a reporter inside their one of their factories for the first time and it did not go well, as evidenced by this awkward apology bit on CNBC.

In its campaign for public good will ahead of a November ballot, Juul CEO Kevin Burns gave an interview to CNBC, airing tonight, and responded to the outcry about the impact of e-cigarettes on teens. For the first time, Burns fully admits that teens are vaping, apologizes to parents, and concedes that we have no idea of the long-term effects of vaping.  

San Francisco supervisors recently passed a vape ban that would take effect in early 2020, but of course, it could be wiped out by a competing pro-vaping ballot measure in this November’s election. That vape measure is sponsored by Juul, whose headquarters are here in San Francisco, and the company just spent what may be as much as $400 million on a building in SoMa. Juul is taking on the PR fight to clean up the public health image of the vaping industry, but their latest attempt may have been a flameout.

Burns was pressed hard on what he’d say to parents of teens who’d taken up using his company’s product. “First of all, I’d tell them I’m sorry their child is using the product,” Burns told CNBC, in a teaser segment of a full interview. “It’s not intended for them. I hope there was nothing we did that made it appealing to them. 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.”

Further, Burns seems to push back against his own company’s claims that vaping has fewer chronic health impacts than traditional smoking.  "Frankly, we don't know today,” he said. “We have not done the long-term, longitudinal, clinical testing that we need to do.”

In the above segment, which does not contain the apology, Burns does reiterate that vaping helps cigarette smokers quit actual cigarettes— though admits that conclusion comes from the company’s own data and analyses, not from any sort of independent medical study. Leading medical experts question whether people really switch away from cigarettes when they  take up e-cigs and Juul-ing.

“Many of them don’t fully switch, they engage in dual use,” says former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “We’re not sure that provides a health benefit. Even if you reduce the number of cigarettes. If you’re still smoking, you’re still having most of the harmful effects of smoking.”

But the big concern with vaping is that it’s getting teens hooked. Studies show a double-digit increase in teenage vaping over the last two years, which helps power Juul’s $1 billion in annual sales. “Their biggest segment are Millennials,” Gottlieb tells CNBC. “I suspect a big proportion of those are people who are newly initiating on nicotine.”

We have not seen the full context of this interview, and CNBC might be playing up some “gotcha” moment in an exchange where Juul CEO Kevin Burns may have otherwise acquitted himself and his company quite well. But the impetus for the San Francisco vaping ban is that e-cigarettes are attracting youth who do not otherwise use tobacco, and, well, Burns did acknowledge and apologize for this. But it might be more illuminating to see the entire context of the interview, which airs at 7 p.m. PDT tonight on CNBC.

Related: San Francisco Supervisors Approve Ordinance To Outlaw E-Cigarette Sales

Photo: Sarah Johnson