Altria owns a 35-percent stake in Juul, the country’s top e-cigarette maker, and in Philip Morris, the name behind the Marlboro brand of cigarettes, the case opens, noting that Altria’s infusion of cash and infrastructure has allowed Juul to put
significant muscle into pushing its Juul vaporizer as sales of traditional cigarettes wane. Citing the West Virginia Consumer Protection Act (WVCPA), the 65-page lawsuit says the defendants have used “fraudulent and deceptive youth marketing business practices” to exploit themes that resonate with teenagers “while falsely denying doing so.” Their product, the plaintiffs argue, is responsible for
rising nicotine addiction among young people.
The case states that when Juul launched its e-cigarette, which promised no throat-feel while delivering stronger nicotine doses, the company made no mention of the problems that may occur from heavy use of the device, particularly by young people and nonsmokers. Complications from heavy nicotine ingestion via a Juul include increased risk of heart disease and stroke, changes in brain functionality that cause an increased susceptibility to anxiety and depression, heightened risk of cancer, and negative effects on fertility, according to the lawsuit.
The case says despite the defendants’ positioning of the non-FDA-approved Juul as a smoking cessation device or smoking alternative, the defendants have, among other tactics, used viral marketing, social media, third-party influencers, positive image reinforcement, appealing food and flavor imagery and language, and free giveaways to turn the vaporizer into a status symbol among youth.
“This campaign extends and expands upon deceptive advertising tropes used by tobacco companies to exploit the psychological needs of consumers—especially youth—to convert them into smokers,” the suit reads.