The parents of a 15-year-old Florida girl have filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Juul Labs, Altria Group, and Philip Morris USA over the companies’ allegedly concerted efforts to market and sell Juul’s e-cigarette products to minors.
The plaintiffs behind the 38-page RICO complaint claim their daughter has become addicted to the Juul e-cigarette, a sleek USB drive-looking device that utilizes a cartridge containing oil to create vapor, and suffers from seizures, which the case says are a complication of nicotine ingestion. According to the plaintiffs, their daughter is part of a larger epidemic of e-cigarette use among youth, who the lawsuit charges are preyed upon by Altria Group, which holds 35 percent ownership of Juul and wholly owns cigarette giant Philip Morris, to replace conventional cigarette smokers.
The defendants, the case says, have taken pages directly out of Big Tobacco’s past marketing playbook, engaging in “copycat advertising” that includes utilizing youth-oriented imagery, pushing the Juul’s “great taste,” publishing eye-catching designs, and linking up with social media influencers to position the product, among other tactics. Juul Labs’ e-cigarette product, which the case points out the company has dubbed “the iPhone of e-cigarettes,” is largely credited with stoking what the lawsuit describes as a vaping epidemic among middle and high school students nationwide. Citing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the case states general e-cigarette use “increased 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students” from 2017 to 2018.
Some of this, the lawsuit claims, stems from the Juul’s “defective design,” which allegedly allows for nicotine to be delivered more effectively and at higher doses than other e-cigarettes and, according to the suit, was more or less made “to create and sustain a nicotine addiction.” More troubling than the apparently beefed up nicotine-delivering capabilities of the Juul and Big Tobacco-style marketing tactics used to put the device in front of the eyes of young people, though, is Juul and Altria’s allegedly fraudulent concealment of information concerning just how addictive Juul e-cigarettes are.
The heart of this claim rests with the charge that while Juul has stated in advertising and marketing materials that one JuulPod contains the nicotine equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes, the company concealed that what matters more than the amount of nicotine in a pod is the efficiency with which it’s delivered into a user’s bloodstream. From the suit:
“Juul repeatedly represented that a single JUULpod contains an amount of nicotine equivalent to about a pack of cigarettes. For example, some JUUL advertisements and JUUL’s website currently provides that each ‘JUULpod is designed to contain approximately 0.7mL with 5% nicotine by weight at time of manufacture which is approximately equivalent to 1 pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs.’ This falsehood is recast in JUUL advertisements, and on JUUL’s website, into the claim that a JUUL delivers about as much nicotine as a cigarette.
This statement is false because, as JUUL knows, it is not just the amount of nicotine, but the efficiency with which the product delivers nicotine into the bloodstream, that determines the product’s narcotic effect and risk of addiction.”
Juul’s claims with regard to nicotine content, the case alleges, are likely to mislead users because though the amount of nicotine contained in a JuulPod is roughly six times less than that in a pack of cigarettes, the actual amount of nicotine delivered into the bloodstream of a Juul vaper “is as much as twice as high as that via cigarettes.
Per the suit’s RICO claim, the case alleges the defendants’ enterprise functioned to achieve shared goals through unlawful means, namely to deceive parents and minors by claiming they did not market to children while doing just that “with the intent of addicting children into becoming lifetime nicotine users.”
The case looks to represent everyone in the United States who purchased Juul products, as well as legal guardians of those who were under 18 at the time they procured and used Juul products.