The head of the most popular e-cigarette brand in the US has apologised to parents whose children have become hooked on vaping.

Speaking to CNBC on a factory tour for a documentary about vaping to air on Monday night, Juul chief executive Kevin Burns was asked what he would say to a parent of a teenager who had been using his product.

"First of all I'd tell them I'm sorry that their child is using the product — it's not intended for them. I hope there was nothing we did that made it appealing to them," Burns said.

"As a parent of a 16-year-old, I'm sorry for them and I have empathy for them in terms of the challenges they're going through."


Juul has had exponential growth since its founding in 2015 and is now valued at more than A$21 billion, claiming 76 per cent of the US e-cigarette market. But while the company bills itself as a smoking alternative for adults, critics say much of its meteoric rise has been from sales to minors.

Juul chief executive Kevin Burns speaks to CNBC. Photo / Supplied
Juul chief executive Kevin Burns speaks to CNBC. Photo / Supplied

They argue Juul intentionally targets teenagers with its sweet and fruity flavours like mango and creme brulee, young-looking advertising models and youth-focused "hashtag marketing" featuring memes and pop culture.

A recent US Government survey found more than one in five high school students admitted to using an electronic cigarette in the past 30 days, CBS News reported, a jump of more than 77 per cent since 2017.

That sparked alarm from parents and health experts and a statement from the Food and Drug Administration announcing it would "accelerate the review of e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products".

"We will continue to take vigorous enforcement actions aimed at ensuring e-cigarettes and other tobacco products aren't being marketed to, or sold to, kids," acting FDA commissioner Norman Sharpless said. "We cannot allow the next generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine because of e-cigarettes."

Under Australian law, the sale of e-cigarettes and other non-traditional nicotine products is banned, but a number of groups — and major tobacco companies including Philip Morris — have been lobbying for vaping to be legalised.