The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the latest public entity to file a proposed class action lawsuit against embattled Juul Labs over the effect the "new epidemic of youth vaping” has had on the education of hundreds of thousands of students. The lawsuit argues that while the LAUSD, the second-largest school district in the country, has already taken steps to reduce tobacco use among its more than 600,000 students, it must now devote even more time and funding to better protect young people against the dangers of e-cigarette use.
“Juul use has interrupted the educational environment—and is impeding learning—in schools throughout the District,” the lawsuit out of San Bernardino County Court alleges.
The case is centered largely on what it claims is the undeniable reversal of any progress made in the fight toward eliminating youth tobacco use. The LAUSD charges that its own student vaping rates have in recent years continued to climb in line with startling national numbers, a spike the district attributes in large part to Juul Labs' youth-focused marketing of its high-nicotine e-cigarette product. According to the suit, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced on August 19, 2019 that “more than 30%” of L.A. County high school students have used e-cigarette products, up 6.4% from 2018.
Without mincing words, the lawsuit alleges that Juul Labs is “a major cause of this epidemic,” whose effects have rippled out beyond young people’s increased use of and the negative health effects linked to e-cigarettes. According to the lawsuit, LAUSD educators and staff have had to deal with not only the prevention and detection of student vaping, but modifications to school property and operations to combat the crisis. For example, the lawsuit says, the LAUSD must now retrofit its smoke detector systems or purchase vaping detectors in order to properly monitor and prevent in-school vaping, as traditional smoke detectors are “not sufficiently sensitive” to Juul vapor.
More worrisome, the lawsuit continues, is the effect the vaping crisis has had on individual student learning. According to the case, the increase in e-cigarette use has led to a rise in student absences, which the plaintiff argues directly impacts overall academic achievement and state funding. With regard to youth vapers who actually attend school, the case stresses that LAUSD staff who catch students vaping “must expend time and resources to deal with the problem” and provide behavioral interventions accordingly. As the case tells it, the number of on-campus vaping incidents is only expected to grow.
“From 2013 to the present, vaping incidents on school campuses in the District increased tenfold. In fact, there have been 435 critical incidents reported related to vaping and e-cigarettes in the 2018-2019 academic year. That number is expected to be substantially higher in the 2019-2020 year, with closer to 500 such critical incidents reported at the current pace.”
The case makes clear that the above numbers “dramatically underestimate” the true extent of what the LAUSD has had to deal with when it comes to student vaping incidents.
Lastly, the lawsuit puts forth that increased vaping among LAUSD students harms all students, including those who do not vape, by “diverting funding away from learning toward educational campaigns, prevention, and treatment.” In place of funding specialized programs, lowering class sizes, and improving technology, among other curriculum-wide enhancements, the LAUSD, the case says, has had to launch an internal task force “to specifically address vaping.”
“The District will continue to incur extensive costs to orchestrate outreach regarding the risks of vaping, to enforce restrictions regarding vaping in school (for example, through vape smoke detectors), and to develop and carry out protocol associated with the collection and disposal of vape products,” the lawsuit says. “In the absence of student vaping, these funds could have gone to the District’s core activity – educating LA’s youth.”