Beasley Allen, as of press time, has filed six lawsuits on behalf of individuals who have become addicted to nicotine as a result of JUUL’s blatant efforts to target minors and addict a new generation to nicotine. The six individuals are from four different states, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and California, yet they all have similar stories. The lawsuits allege JUUL and other Defendants intentionally created a device to create and sustain a nicotine addiction, aggressively and fraudulently marketed JUUL vaping devices and products, specifically targeted youth and teens, and failed to warn of the products’ highly addictive levels of nicotine. The Plaintiffs are represented by Beasley Allen lawyers Andy Birchfield, who heads the firm’s Mass Torts Section, and Joseph VanZandt, a lawyer in the Section, who is lead counsel in each case.
Alternative vaping devices have been on the market since the mid-2000s. They were originally created and promoted to adult smokers to stop smoking traditional cigarettes and tobacco products. However, JUUL products entered the market in 2015 and single-handedly reversed this country’s progress in ending nicotine usage altogether. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that high school students using vaping devices soared from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 21 percent in 2018.
The lawsuits allege that JUUL created this new epidemic as a part of its plan to addict a new generation to nicotine. The company intentionally designed its vaping devices to look like USB flash drives, making it easier for young people to hide the device or smoke it in class behind a teacher’s back. JUUL created a variety of flavors that appeal to non-smokers and young people primarily. Despite intentionally designing its product to create and sustain nicotine addiction, JUUL advertised its products as fun, cool, and healthier.
The lawsuits filed by Beasley Allen were on behalf of six individuals from four different states and in four different venues. I will give a brief summary of each case below.
- Hallie Helms from Clayton, Alabama, began using JUUL when she was 17 years old. She was not aware of the high nicotine content in the product and quickly developed an extreme nicotine addiction. If Ms. Helms can’t ingest her JUUL when necessary, she gets extreme headaches and becomes irritable and difficult to be around. She has never smoked a cigarette. Neither would she have tried JUUL if it had only been offered in “tobacco flavored” JUULpods. Ms. Helms’ claim was filed in the circuit court for Barbour County.
- Brian Bentley is from Athens, Alabama, and is the father of a 17-year-old who first tried JUUL when he was only 16. The teenager became progressively addicted and developed deceptive behavioral issues as a result of his addiction. Brian has explained that his son also developed more aggressive behavior that led to fights at school. His son’s issues progressed so much so that Brian had to send his son to military school earlier this year. His son continues to struggle with his addiction. This case was filed in the circuit court for Limestone County.
- Savannah West began using the JUUL when she was 17 years old. She had never smoked a cigarette, but after becoming addicted to JUUL, she began smoking cigarettes to satisfy her nicotine cravings when she could not purchase more pods. Ms. West has struggled to stay in her job since becoming severely addicted. She tried to stop JUULing once; she ended up in the hospital after reporting to her doctor of her suicidal thoughts. Ms. West has no prior history of mental health issues but she will now struggle with this and her addiction for the rest of her life. West’s claim was filed in the Middle District of Alabama.
- Lindsey Chapman is from Los Angeles, California. She became addicted to JUUL shortly after trying the device. When she has tried to quit using the product, she experiences mood swings, becomes antsy, irritable, and unable to study for class. She is now reliant on nicotine and will struggle with this addiction for years to come.
- Justin Meir is from Davies, Florida, and began using JUUL at only 15 years old. Justin, who never exhibited any signs of an addictive personality before, now has an addiction that he must sustain or he suffers powerful withdrawal symptoms. Justin has expressed a strong desire to stop using JUUL but has been unable to due to his level of addiction to the product, which he never intended.
- Jared Pitts from Newport News, Virginia, first tried JUUL when he turned 18. After all of the advertisements, hype, and prevalent usage, Jared had to try the JUUL. Jared loved the flavors and developed an addiction that caused him concern for his heart and breathing. He was willing to smoke cigarettes when he otherwise never would have. Jared developed panic attacks and anxiety. Before, he was just a happy 18-year-old excited about the life ahead of him.
The Chapman, Meir, and Pitts’ claims were all filed in San Francisco state court, the home state of JUUL Labs. Other negative health consequences associated with JUUL use include seizures, strokes, and nicotine poisoning. Beasley Allen lawyers continue investigating cases involving JUUL brand vaping devices.
Everything JUUL did, from designing the product, manipulating the nicotine, and marketing, was targeted at addicting young people to nicotine. Joseph, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs in the six cases, says those suits are “just the beginning.” He expects hundreds, if not thousands, of cases involving JUUL to begin pouring in from around the country with like or similar factual situations.
We at Beasley Allen believe it’s important for the public to know how truly bad JUUL’s conduct has been. Sadly, that conduct is continuing to be very bad. I will give a summary of Juul’s conduct below:
Juul’s founders have admitted they pored over the internal research documents and board meeting minutes of cigarette companies used as evidence in the massive tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s in order to formulate the company’s business plan. Describing the cigarette as “the most successful consumer product of all time,” Juul founder James Monsees said he set out to “deliver solutions that refresh the magic” of tobacco. Juul focused in particular on the since-banned methods that cigarette makers formerly used to target young smokers. Sadly youngsters have long been coveted as customers by tobacco companies due to the potential longevity of their nicotine habit and their impressionability.
For starters, Juul rolled out nicotine pods with flavors like mango, cool mint, and creme brulee, flavors the three Plaintiffs say were specifically designed to target young customers. Cigarette makers, meanwhile, have long been banned from selling sweetly flavored cigarettes over fears that young customers find them more attractive. The company is now waging a major public relations campaign in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
Juul also designed its product to deliver more nicotine per drag than a cigarette, with none of the “punch” to the back of the throat that often acts as a built-in limiting agent when smoking a cigarette. “Juul’s creation of a product with low levels of harshness and minimal throat ‘hit’ is consistent with the goal of producing a product for young non-smokers.” Juul initially launched a nationwide advertising blitz that featured colorful ads with young and attractive models using its product, billboards in Times Square, and events that gave away thousands of Juul products for free. All three of those practices are verboten for cigarette makers.
Juul amplified that campaign with a sophisticated social media strategy that was also tailored to appeal to young customers. From the outset, Juul was well aware that a huge portion of its sales was going to persons like Plaintiffs younger than 26 but did nothing to curb, prevent or mitigate the harm that its products could cause. When public health officials and regulators began to express alarm over the rapid rise in youth vaping that began to occur around this time, the three Plaintiffs said Juul responded with another tactic from the “tobacco playbook” by feigning ignorance and funding studies that muddied the waters about the dangers of nicotine addiction.
After lawsuits started being filed, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began investigating Juul last year, the company pulled sweet flavors like mango out of gas stations and smoke shops – although they are still available online – and began to phase out all of the bright, vibrant and youth-oriented advertising that had defined the brand in its early days. Juul set out to rewrite its history.
Juul’s website now pictures middle-aged adults in non-glamorous settings and suggests that Juul solely exists for the benefit of adult smokers looking for an alternative. But the viral marketing campaign and images live on due to social media. The candy flavors are still available and the product remains designed to maximize the nicotine delivery for young people leading to devastating health consequences.
On July 25, a congressional committee made public a large number of documents revealing that Juul targeted children. Company representatives were to testify. More will be said in our next issue.
Our firm is dedicated and equipped to bringing Juul to justice and to help and protect the thousands of folks, including minors who have been victimized by this company. If you need more information or have comments, contact Joseph VanZandt in our Mass Torts Section.
This story appears in the August issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like it, or to subscribe, visit the Report online.