The Plaintiffs Steering Committee (PSC) for the JUUL multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Northern District of California recently filed amended master individual and class action complaints that expand the field of Defendants blamed for addicting a generation of youth to nicotine. The complaints divide the Defendants into five categories:
The JUUL Defendants: JUUL Labs, Inc. and its predecessors Altria Group, Inc., Phillip Morris USA, Inc., Altria Client Services LLC; Altria Group Distribution Company; and Altria Enterprises LLC.
The Management Defendants: JUUL Founders and Board Members – James Monsees and Adam Bowen; members of JUUL’s Board of Directors – Nicholas Pritzker, Hoyoung Huh and Riaz Valani.
The E-Liquid Manufacturing Defendants: Mother Murphy’s Labs, Inc.; Alternative Ingredients, Inc.; Tobacco Technology, Inc; and Eliquitech, Inc.
The Distributor Defendants: McLane Company, Inc.; Eby-Brown Company, LLC; and Core-Mark Holding Company, Inc.
The Retailer Defendants: Chevron Corporation; Circle K Stores Inc.; Speedway LLC; 7-Eleven, Inc.; Walmart; and Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
The complaints allege that the Co-Defendants conspired to hook millions of youth to nicotine and worsen nicotine addiction for adults trying to quit smoking, all while raking in billions of dollars in profits. The complaints detail how JUUL and its conspirators downplayed and hid the risk of addiction while aggressively marketing its products to youth. JUUL copied “Big Tobacco’s” playbook to undo decades of public health successes in reducing the number of people smoking cigarettes and addicted to nicotine. JUUL and its Co-Defendants promoted JUUL as a safe alternative to cigarettes, without telling prospective buyers about the risk of addiction and other physical injuries like cardiovascular and pulmonary problems.
The complaints allege that JUUL and Altria worked to conceal studies that showed JUUL was more addictive than cigarettes, and they worked to delay and block regulation of their product, enabling vaping among youth to grow into an epidemic. The complaints allege that JUUL went so far as to send representatives into schools to study teenagers’ preferences and paid social media influencers to promote JUUL to youth. Further, the complaints allege that JUUL advertised its product on websites like Nick Junior and Cartoon Network.
The Master MDL complaints are the first complaints to name JUUL’s founders and several key board members personally. The complaints allege that when James Monsees stepped down as CEO of JUUL in 2015, billionaire investors and directors – Pritzker, Huh and Valini – formed an Executive Committee and took charge of the company and its fraudulent marking of JUUL products to youth. Soon thereafter, they formed a relationship with tobacco-giant Altria to expand JUUL’s market and impact.
In 2017, JUUL’s sales increased by 700% and JUUL soon controlled more than three-quarters of the vaping market. The efforts of JUUL and its Co-Defendants resulted in a national youth vaping epidemic, and the amended Master Complaint seeks to hold the individuals and companies responsible for this epidemic accountable for the damage done to an entire generation of young people.
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. Additionally, they have filed dozens of lawsuits on behalf of school districts nationwide, which seek to protect students from nicotine addiction and recover resources spent fighting the vaping epidemic.
This story appears in the April 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.