A Massapequa, New York resident who claims to have started “Juuling” when he was roughly 15 years old has filed a proposed class action against Juul Labs, Altria Group and Philip Morris over the parties’ alleged targeting of teenagers and young people with Big Tobacco-style marketing and advertising techniques.
Filed in New York’s Eastern District, the 38-page lawsuit echoes a number of other potential class action complaints against the defendants in alleging their Juul e-cigarette product has pulled in lofty profits due in large part to “misleading, deceptive, and unconscionable practices” and the exploitation of themes “that resonate with teenagers and young adults.” Chief among the defendants’ go-to advertising techniques for the Juul is the use of animation, models and social media influencers, all of which are designed to appeal to minors, the suit alleges. Despite the apparent blatancy with which the defendants are alleged to have positioned the Juul in front of young folks’ eyes, Juul Labs, Altria and Philip Morris have falsely denied doing so while sparking fears that youth vaping has reached critical mass, the lawsuit says.
“Defendants’ unlawful practices have led to an epidemic of individuals addicted to e-cigarettes and vaping, to their severe detriment,” the case reads, adding that according to the FDA, upward of 3.6 million middle and high school students reportedly used e-cigarettes in 2018.
At the center of the case is the defendants’ alleged intent to mislead proposed class members into buying Juul e-cigarettes and nicotine-filled flavor pods. The lawsuit claims outright that when the defendants released the non-FDA-approved Juul e-cigarette into the market, the companies failed to disclose any of the adverse effects they were aware were caused by substantial nicotine consumption. Despite positioning the Juul as safer than traditional cigarettes, the companies are alleged to have failed to warn consumers and young people that the product can lead to addiction, as well as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and changes in brain functionality linked with anxiety, depression and long-term mental health conditions.
The case highlights that despite years of “inaction” and in the face of public pressure, Juul Labs has done “nothing to discourage the minors already addicted to its products.” Its recent ostensible steps forward, such as its move to end all advertising, is “too little too late,” according to the lawsuit.
With regard to the plaintiff, the case says the 19-year-old believed at the outset of his vaping habit that Juul’s e-cigarettes were “safe for use” in comparison to traditional cigarettes. When his habit began, the lawsuit continues, the plaintiff was apparently unaware of the product’s addictiveness and high nicotine levels. The plaintiff asserts that he would not have bought Juul’s product had he known of its highly addictive nature, concentrated nicotine potency and link to adverse health consequences.
“As a result of his use of JUUL e-cigarettes, Plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer, severe adverse health effects, including but not limited to severe coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, increased phlegm/mucus, throat irritation, and vocal changes,” according to the lawsuit.
Staring down a barrage of potential class action litigation, Juul Labs’ eventful last few weeks has led the company to back out of its support for San Francisco’s Proposition C, a ballot initiative that aims to overturn the ban on the sale of e-cigarettes in the city. Last week saw Juul’s former CEO Kevin Burns step down amid reports that the government intended to ramp up its scrutiny of e-cigarette products.
The case looks to certify a class of all New York residents who bought, used, became addicted to or were otherwise harmed by an electronic nicotine delivery system manufactured, assembled, delivered, marketed, advertised and sold by the defendants.