Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said the state has filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs alleging it preyed on minors with its product designs and aggressive marketing campaigns while downplaying the health risks of vaping.
The lawsuit, filed July 7 in Denver District Court, follows a yearlong investigation by the state Attorney General’s office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Adams 12 Five Star Schools district. The probe concluded that found JUUL carried out “one of the most reckless, unconscionable, and devastatingly successful marketing campaigns in U.S. history” intent on selling its products to kids and teens.
Addicting a new generation
The state alleges that JUUL violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act in several ways and blames the company for “creat[ing] the youth vaping epidemic in Colorado and throughout the country.”
According to the complaint, the company developed its vape devices to resemble a USB flash drive that could be hidden in plain sight, thereby making them more attractive and easily accessible to kids yet more difficult for parents and teachers to identify.
The suit also alleges that JUUL created kid-friendly vape flavors such as mango, fruit medley, and cool mint even after public health and government officials warned that that the sweet, candy-like flavors could entice kids.
The company also enabled a system that allowed teens to obtain JUUL devices by emailing the company a serial number from a JUUL device to claim they received a defective device. JUUL then sent teens new devices without requiring them to send the “defective” device back, according to the state’s allegations.
“A buyer could create an unlimited number of accounts using different email addresses but using the same age-verification information. This allowed youth to obtain numerous ‘replacement’ devices from multiple accounts, and then share them or sell to other youth,” the lawsuit alleges. “Though Juul lost money on these warranty replacements, they made money on the sale of pods for use in these devices. Juul, therefore, had little incentive to close this loophole.”
JUUL also added an “ultra-high addictive nicotine concentration” to its products and failed to warn that its vapes contained nicotine, the lawsuit alleges. Research has shown that most minors who JUULed thought they were inhaling flavors only.
Deceptive and illegal marketing
Aggressive and highly effective guerilla marketing strategies on social media platforms popular with teens formed another strategy JUUL employed to lure kids to its products, the complaint contends.
The state’s investigation found the company targeted what it called “cool kids” on social media platforms and paid these influencers to portray JUUL products as desirable to youth. JUUL also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Quit Media, LLC, a search engine optimization consultant that operated a fake smoking-cessation website under the name “Quit Smoking Community.” The complaint alleges that the website appeared to be operated by a non-profit group focused on helping smokers when, in fact, it was a tool for JUUL to engage in deceptive and illegal marketing techniques.
While JUUL claims its products were always intended to help people quit smoking, it knew that many young people move from vaping “to conventional cigarettes—the opposite of cessation,” the Attorney General said. The symbiotic relationship between vaping and smoking also explains why the tobacco giant Altria bought one-third of JUUL’s shares for $12.8 billion in December 2018. The Federal Trade Commission is currently suing JUUL and Altria, alleging its relationship violates federal antitrust laws.
Harming students and school environment
“This reckless and deceptive marketing inflicted major harm on Colorado students—from students having difficulty concentrating, to creating a greater need for discipline and disrupting the learning environment, to, most alarmingly, harming Colorado kids’ health,” Attorney General Weser said.
His office also alleges that Colorado’s education system has been adversely impacted by the soaring popularity of vaping among the state’s youth. “No Colorado school has escaped the scourge of JUUL,” the lawsuit asserts, adding that teachers and school administrators have struggled to combat vaping on school grounds for years.
According to the lawsuit, “Students describe an inability to concentrate, teachers describe disruption in the classroom, administrators describe bathrooms and parking lots littered with vaping waste products, and increased demands on school discipline resources, all of which has significantly damaged their school communities and learning environments.”
The lawsuit seeks to recover money for damage caused to Colorado and its citizens. It also calls for a halt to the company’s allegedly unlawful and deceptive trade practices.
Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett, together with Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing several individuals who are suing the top U.S. vape maker JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. Recognizing the critical threat to young people ensnared by nicotine addiction, and its effect on our nation’s educational system, our firm has also joined other nationally recognized law firms to represent school districts and public entities across the country in the fight to stop the school vaping crisis.