A Washington school district has joined the swell of opposition against Juul Labs, Inc. with its filing of a proposed class action in which it claims the embattled e-cigarette company has negatively impacted the nation’s schools and students by marketing its products to minors.
The 77-page lawsuit out of Washington district court alleges that Juul Labs and majority stockholder Altria Group, Inc., who reportedly now control 70 percent of the e-cigarette market, have employed to great success Big Tobacco-style marketing strategies in order to hook young people into using Juul e-cigarettes. At the center of the case is the costly impact Juul’s injurious marketing and advertising campaigns have allegedly had on the nation’s schools, who the plaintiff says have been forced to spend time and resources responding to what the CDC has described as an “epidemic” among youth.
“Across the United States, schools have had to divert resources and administrators have had to go to extreme lengths to respond to the ever-growing number of students using JUULs on school grounds,” the complaint explains.
Taking full advantage of the once sparse regulation of e-cigarettes, the defendants allegedly began their campaign by taking to social media to attract underage customers with the use of colorful ad campaigns that featured “eye-catching designs and youth-oriented imagery with themes of being cool, carefree, stylish, attractive, sexy, and popular.” These youth-focused marketing tactics, coupled with “child-friendly” Juulpod flavors such as Crème Brulee and Mango, were incredibly effective in converting young non-smokers into e-cigarette users, the lawsuit explains, noting that between 2017 and 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students increased 78 percent, while increasing 48 percent among middle school students.
Shockingly absent from Juul’s advertising campaigns, however, was any warning about the product’s potential negative health effects, the complaint says. Citing a recent study, the lawsuit notes that 63 percent of adolescent Juul users were not even aware that the product contained nicotine, as none of Juul Labs’ marketing materials made mention of the fact. From the complaint:
“In the first year after its launch, not one of JUUL’s 171 promotional emails said anything about nicotine content, and  it did not include nicotine warnings on the JUUL packaging until August 2018, when it was forced to do so.”
The lawsuit stresses that not only do Juul e-cigarettes contain nicotine, but the products reportedly allow users to inhale an increased amount of nicotine at a faster rate, “roughly doubling the concentration and tripling the delivery speed of nicotine of the average e-cigarette.” According to the case, the combination of the Juul’s design and the defendants’ deceptive marketing campaign is a recipe for addiction targeted to unknowing, underage non-smokers.
The suit argues that it fell to the students’ school districts to address and mitigate the effects of Juul’s injurious conduct. On top of implementing new policies addressing Juul use, schools have been forced to expend additional resources to enforce said policies and train staff to recognize and respond to Juul use, the plaintiff stresses. According to the lawsuit, teachers and staff in many schools have been recruited to police school bathrooms—which the case says have been renamed “Juul rooms” by students—and work additional hours to educate and discipline students caught using the devices.
Moreover, the lawsuit claims counselors and prevention specialists have spent extra time discussing Juul use with students and helping those who have become addicted to nicotine.
The case seeks to certify a proposed nationwide class of school districts “that have spent resources addressing, or whose property has been affected by, student use of JUUL products,” with a proposed subclass of school districts in Washington.
Apart from its class action troubles, Juul Labs has lately come under fire by federal prosecutors as the nation scrambles to address youth e-cigarette use and a growing number of vaping-related illnesses that have left at least 18 dead.