North Carolina has filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, alleging the leading manufacturer of vaping products misrepresented the potency and danger of nicotine in its products while promoting them to minors.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said his state is the first to take JUUL to court. He called JUUL’s business practices “reckless” and “illegal” and said that the company needs to stop before it converts more minors into nicotine addicts.
JUUL, which captured 75% of the of the vape market, claims that its products are intended only for adult smokers who are trying to quit. However, JUUL’s popularity and use among teens is considerably greater than the vape maker’s supposed targeted demographic.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers youth vaping a national epidemic but so far its efforts to drive down the alarming number of minors vaping has yielded no significant results.
North Carolina’s youth vaping crisis largely mirrors the national epidemic. “In a span of six years we’ve seen a 900 percent increase in high school students reporting that they are using [vape devices],” Dr. Susan Kansagra with the North Carolina Division of Public Health told the Associated Press. “Among middle school students we’ve seen a 400 percent increase …”
About one in five U.S. school students vape. Dr. Kansagra told the AP that 17 percent of North Carolina high school student are using JUULs, or “juuling” as it is commonly called.
The state’s lawsuit alleges JUUL deliberately designed flavors, the product, and its chemical composition to hook minors.
“JUUL entered the market with the highest nicotine potency of any product,” Attorney General Stein said, according to the AP. “Meanwhile JUUL understated the strength of the nicotine in each pod, downplaying its risks.”
At the same time, JUUL marketed its products to kids, teens, and young adults on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms with youth-oriented sponsors and “social media influencers.”
These practices propelled JUUL from a 2015 startup to a multi-billion corporation. Last year, JUUL teamed up with Big Tobacco company Altria, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, in a deal that put JUUL’s valuation at $38 billion.
Studies have shown that many minors don’t know that JUUL products contain nicotine, or they’re unaware of what nicotine is and how it can adversely affect their health.
When 16-year old Luka Kinard first tried vaping as a freshman at High Point Central High School in High Point, North Carolina, he didn’t realize how adversely the popular activity could impact his health. Luke told NBC News that he started vaping to help him “fit in” with his peers.
Over the next year and a half, he stopped growing, shed weight, and suffered a seizure. His behavior also changed dramatically. While vaping, Luke was prone to uncharacteristic angry outbursts, a loss of interest in his usual activities, failing grades, and intense anxiety.
Recognizing that her son had a substance-abuse problem, Luke’s mother sent him to a rehab program in California. When he quit vaping in October, Luke grew three inches and put on 20 pounds.
“Each refillable flavored JUUL insert contains nicotine and other toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, arsenic, and acetone,” Attorney General Stein said. “The health risks of nicotine exposure and vaping include dramatic changes in the brain, lung inflammation, COPD, respiratory disorders, addiction, long-term behavioral changes, and an increased likelihood of future drug misuse.”
It’s young people like Luke that Attorney General Stein said he’s determined to hold JUUL responsible for, and make sure it doesn’t target future generations.
By suing JUUL for violation of North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, he seeks a statewide ban on sales of all JUUL flavors except for menthol and tobacco. He also wants the court to prohibit JUUL from engaging in youth-oriented marketing practices in North Carolina, including the sponsorship of sporting, entertainment, and charity events. Additionally, he wants the court to bar JUUL from advertising its products within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.
Joseph VanZandt in our Mass Torts Section is looking into cases of injuries related to vaping. Negative health consequences include seizures and nicotine poisoning. If you feel you have a claim related to vaping, he’d like to talk with you.
Additional source: North Carolina v. JUUL Labs, Inc. / Durham County Superior Court