JUUL Labs E-Cigarette School District Litigation

La Conner School District v. JUUL Labs, Inc. et al.
United States District Court, Western District of Washington
Case No. 19-01600

Case Overview

Plaintiff, the La Conner School District, filed this complaint against Defendants JUUL Labs, Inc. (“JUUL”), Altria Group, Inc., Altria Client Services, Altria Group Distribution Company, and Nu Mark, LLC (collectively “Altria Defendants”) on behalf of all similar situated school districts in the United States and its territories that have spent resources addressing, or whose property has been affected by, student use of JUUL products.

Plaintiff reasonably fears that Defendants’ marketing strategy, advertising, and product design targets minors, especially teenagers, and will increase the likelihood that minors, like the students in La Conner School District, will begin using e-cigarettes and become addicted to Defendants’ e-cigarette products and this will cause further harm to Plaintiff and others that are similarly situated.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are: creating or assisting in the creation of a condition that is injurious to the health and safety of Plaintiff and its students and employees and interfering with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property of entire communities; directly causing a severe disruption of the public health, order, and safety; and violating public policy against marketing vapor products like JUUL to minors. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are:

  • Actively seeking to enter school campuses, targeting children as young as eight through summer camps and school programs, extensively targeting youth through social media campaigns, and recruiting “influencers” to market to teens;
  • Engaging in marketing tactics specifically designed to mislead children and youth and to ensnare minors into nicotine addiction, including by explicitly adopting tactics prohibited from Big Tobacco, with the knowledge that those tactics were likely to ensnare children and youth into nicotine addiction, including using billboards and outdoor advertising, sponsoring events, giving free samples, paying affiliates and “influencers” to push JUUL products on JUUL’s behalf, and by selling JUUL in flavors designed to appeal to youth;
  • Engaging in advertising modeled on cigarette ads and featuring youthful-appearing models and designing advertising in a patently youth-oriented fashion;
  • Directing advertising to youth media outlets and media designed to appeal to children and youth, such as Instagram and other social media channels;
  • Hosting youth-focused parties across the United States, at which free JUUL samples were dispensed and in which vaping was featured prominently across JUUL-sponsored social media;
  • Formulating JUULpods with flavors with the knowledge that such flavors appealed to youth and with the intent that youth become addicted or dependent upon JUUL products; and
  • Promoting and assisting the growth of the JUUL market and its availability with knowledge that JUUL products were being purchased and used by large numbers of youth.

Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant JUUL and the Altria Defendants formed an association-in-fact enterprise—the JUUL Enterprise, to maintain and expand JUUL’s massive, and ill-gotten, share of the e-cigarette market.

If you are concerned with the impact that JUUL use or vaping habits are having on your school district, please contact Keller Rohrback at 800-776-6044 or consumer@kellerrohrback.com to discuss your concerns and potential legal claims.

Background

The JUUL is a type of e-cigarette—an electronic nicotine delivery system that heats liquid containing nicotine, flavoring, and chemicals into an aerosol that is inhaled. Nicotine is addictive and can harm an adolescent’s developing brain.

JUUL Labs, the e-cigarette manufacturer partially owned by Altria (NYSE:MO), the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris (NYSE:PM), has transformed the e-cigarette market since it launched in 2015. Dubbed the “iPhone of e-cigarettes,” JUUL’s device appeals to teenagers because of its sleek and sophisticated appearance and because it is small and easy to conceal.

JUUL also markets its products in flavors that are particularly appealing for kids and teenagers. The patented JUULpods come in flavors such as mango, fruit, cucumber, crème, and mint. But that is where the appeal ends. JUULpods contain 59 mg per ml of nicotine—roughly three times the nicotine limit in Europe—while utilizing acids that reduce the harshness associated with smoking and other e-cigarettes. The end result is a nicotine delivery system that, according to Truth Initiativedoubles the concentration and nearly triples the delivery speed of nicotine compared to the average e-cigarette.

JUUl’s rise in popularity has been meteoric. Over one million JUUL devices were sold between 2015 and 2017. JUUL Labs now controls 70% of the market and last year had retail sales of $942.6 million. In December 2018, Altria invested $12.8 billion to acquire a 35% stake in JUUL. Overnight, millions of teens became Philip Morris customers. JUUL, like Philip Morris before it, would have you believe that its products are only intended for adults. But according to researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, Juul’s advertising was “patently youth oriented” from the start with its vivid colors, youthful models, and candy-like flavors.  In 2018 alone there was an 80% increase in high school students vaping and a 50% increase in middle school students using e-cigarettes. More than 20% of children under the age of 18 are using e-cigarettes, compared to less than 3% of adults. The Surgeon General has characterized e-cigarette use by youth as a public health epidemic.

Prior to JUUL’s launch, youth nicotine use had been on a steady decline: from 2000 to 2017, the smoking rate among high school students fell by 73%. That trend has now been completely reversed. Between 2017 and 2018 the number of American teenagers using any tobacco product has increased by nearly 40%, the largest single year increase in youth tobacco use ever. In 2018, more than one in four American high school students reported using a tobacco product in the past 30 days.

Congress informed JUUL Labs that the Surgeon General, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the former Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, and the Secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) all pointed to JUUL Labs as a primary cause of youth e-cigarette epidemic. Multiple states have launched investigations of JUUL Labs, and in 2018 the FDA raided JUUL Lab’s headquarters. But while government regulators may force JUUL to change how it does business in the future, action needs to be taken on behalf of the millions of kids addicted to nicotine as a result of JUUL Lab’s products and business practices.

Case Documents

Class Action Complaint – 10/07/2019

If you would like more information regarding this case, please contact us at consumer@kellerrohrback.com or at 800.776.6044.

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