JUUL accounts for roughly seven in every 10 e-cigarettes sold in the United States. The device resembles a USB stick and uses pods of e-liquid to create an inhalable vapor. Its manufacturer says each pod contains about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 tobacco cigarettes. At least one lawsuit claims the pods “deliver more highly addictive nicotine into the bloodstream at a faster rate than cigarettes.”
Multiple people have filed individual lawsuits claiming use of the products led to nicotine addiction. There are several class action lawsuits underway, too. As of March 2019, one class action in California included more than 30 people from around United States ranging from 14-year-olds to adults.
In addition to JUUL Labs, lawsuits name Big Tobacco giant Altria and its subsidiary, Philip Morris. The companies bought a 35 percent stake in the e-cigarette maker in December 2018.
Lawsuits Claim New or Worsened Nicotine Addiction
People who have filed JUUL lawsuits claim the device led to nicotine addiction or worsened their addiction when they used it to try to stop smoking. Many of the lawsuits have been filed by parents on behalf of their teenage children who used the products and later became addicted.
The lawsuits also claim that the e-cigarette’s maker engaged in deceptive marketing that hid information about nicotine content and targeted teens through social networks. Some cite a specific need for expensive addiction treatment because of the e-cigarettes.
- Carl Cooper
- Cooper filed his lawsuit in a California state court. His lawsuit claims he started smoking tobacco in 2010 when he was 15. Cooper said in the complaint that he was a weekend smoker who tried the e-cigarette as a way to stop smoking. Instead, it worsened his nicotine addiction in just a couple of weeks. “Whereas Cooper had never felt the need to smoke on a daily basis, he now finds that he feels compelled to vape JUUL pods every day,” his complaint said.
- Erin and Jared NesSmith of Sarasota, Florida, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of their teenage daughter identified in court documents as A.N. Their complaint claims A.N. is addicted to JUUL and suffers from seizures as a result of nicotine ingestion. The lawsuit claims the manufacturer deliberately targeted teens by mimicking Big Tobacco’s past marketing practices. It also claims that the e-cigarette is designed to replicate the feel of a tobacco cigarette, making it easier for its users to switch to conventional cigarettes.
- J.M.-1 and J.M.-2
- Sabrina Zampa filed a federal lawsuit in Miami on behalf of her minor sons identified as J.M-1 and J.M.-2. The lawsuit says both boys started using the company’s e-cigarette and pods in middle school and by the age of 14 and 16, both were addicted to nicotine as a result. It claims the boys were “intrigued with JUUL’s products because of the branding and more particularly the flavors.” The lawsuit says both teens have tried to break their nicotine habit but have been unable to because of headaches and other side effects of nicotine withdrawal.
- Elizabeth Swearingen and John Peavy
- The two Alabama college students filed a class action lawsuit in that state, claiming JUUL’s flavored vape liquids led to their nicotine addiction and other health problems. Swearingen is a former cross-country runner who now has trouble breathing during simple tasks, according to the complaint. The complaint also claims Peavy developed chest congestion and loss of appetite due to using the products.
Many of the lawsuits so far have been class actions attempting to consolidate all lawsuits within a state. JUUL Labs has sought to move some of these into a Northern California federal court near where the company is headquartered.
The number of lawsuits filed since the beginning of 2019 has increased steadily. Legal experts believe that a large volume of the suits could lead to a single, national mass litigation.
Studies Found JUUL Labs Marketed to Teens, Downplayed Nicotine
JUUL hit the market in 2015 and saw explosive growth following an aggressive social media marketing effort. The Washington Post reported the company’s revenues grew sevenfold in 2018 alone.
United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in 2018 that the problem of students vaping had become an epidemic in America. Lawsuits have cited studies of the manufacturer’s marketing practices, which appeared to be aimed at teens.
“JUUL’s advertising imagery in its first six months on the market was patently youth oriented,” Stanford University School of Medicine researchers wrote in a 2019 paper.
The study by Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising also found the manufacturer had sought out high-profile social media influencers and paid them for positive reviews while insisting they not disclose the relationship.
"JUUL’s advertising imagery in its first six months on the market was patently youth oriented."
A 2018 study in the British Medical Journal found that the manufacturer had effectively used social media to quickly gain the lion’s share of the e-cigarette market in the United States. The marketing strategy differed from previous e-cigarette advertising campaigns that used television or promotions that reached older consumers.
“We found the number of JUUL-related tweets was highly correlated with quarterly retail sales of JUUL,” the authors wrote.
The researchers also found slick marketing campaigns on Instagram in which images of the e-cig products were associated with “lifestyle feelings such as relaxation, freedom and sex appeal.”
A 2017 study in PloS One found that the pods may have contained 20 percent more nicotine than their maker had advertised.
The manufacturer did not add a nicotine warning to its Twitter feed until October 2017. Many of its early promotional emails from April 2015 through April 2016 also failed to make any mention of nicotine content.
In November 2018, JUUL Labs shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts. It has also changed how it uses Twitter and YouTube. Company CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement that the company was making changes to counteract use of its products among teens.
States and Public Health Groups File Lawsuits
State attorneys general in North Carolina and Massachusetts have taken aim at some of the same marketing complaints named in JUUL lawsuits. And public health groups have filed lawsuits to have the e-cig maker pay for treatment of nicotine addicted teens.
North Carolina Sues Over E-Cigarette Marketing to Minors
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed the first state consumer lawsuit against JUUL Labs in May 2019, claiming the company marketed products to minors and mislead consumers about risks.
"JUUL's business practices are not only reckless, they're illegal. And I intend to put a stop to them. We cannot allow another generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine."
The lawsuit says the company “played a central role in fostering the epidemic of e-cigarette use” among teens.
“JUUL’s business practices are not only reckless, they’re illegal. And I intend to put a stop to them. We cannot allow another generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine,” Stein said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit followed an investigation the attorney general had launched into the company’s marketing practices in October 2018.
Massachusetts Launches Investigation into Marketing Practices
In July 2018, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Healey announced her office was investigating JUUL’s marketing and sales to minors. At the same time, she sent out cease and desist letters to two retailers selling the devices and other e-cig products online until they could set up a more secure age verification system.
“I am investigating JUUL and online sellers of their products to keep these highly addictive products out of the hands of children,” Healy said in a statement.
In May 2019, Healey announced a consumer lawsuit stemming from the investigation. The suit said Eonsmoke LLC failed for years to verify the ages of online customers buying the trendy devices and other e-cigarette products. The company was one of those that received a cease and desist order the previous year.
Public Health Advocates Demand Payment for Addiction Treatment
Public health advocates at a Boston-based university announced plans to file a class action lawsuit against JUUL Labs in April 2019 unless the company paid for a statewide prevention and treatment program for teens with nicotine addiction due to its products.
The lawsuit by the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University is believed to be one of the first of its kind against the manufacturer, according to The Boston Globe.
The institute sent a letter to the company accusing it of making and selling products designed to be addictive and appealing to minors. The letter also asks JUUL Labs to fund treatment and prevention programs along with research into teen e-cig addiction. The letter said if the manufacturer agreed to fund the programs within 30 days, it would hold off on filing the lawsuit.
Federal Judge Orders FDA to Speed Up E-Cigarette Review
In May 2019, a federal judge sided with several public health advocates in ordering the Food and Drug Administration to speed up its review of all brands of electronic cigarettes.
“As it turns out, even addiction has become electronic,” Judge Paul Grimm wrote in his opinion.
Six public health groups along with several individual doctors filed the lawsuit in 2018, claiming the lack of FDA oversight was allowing underage vaping to grow unchecked.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (National & Maryland chapters)
- American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
- American Heart Association
- American Lung Association
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
- Truth Initiative
The agency has had the authority to regulate e-cigarettes since 2016 but had been slow to enforce regulations on the industry. The FDA had not planned to even begin reviewing e-cigarette products until 2021. The court decision could force the agency to begin much sooner unless it is overturned on appeal.
Compensation for Health Costs, Addiction Treatment and Smoking Prevention
JUUL lawsuits are still in the very early stages. There have been no trials and no publicly disclosed settlements yet. But several experts have compared the legal actions against the e-cig maker to the tobacco lawsuits and settlements of the 1990s and early 2000s. In each situation, individuals, public health advocates and state attorneys general filed lawsuits.
With the tobacco litigation, individuals filed successful lawsuits, claiming tobacco led to addiction and health problems. The lawsuits were aided by the fact that industry documents showed that tobacco companies knew their cigarettes were addictive.
In February 1999, a California jury awarded a $51.5 million verdict to a smoker with inoperable lung cancer. Juries continued to award large verdicts to smokers in the years since. RJ Reynolds reported 53 verdicts against it totaling more than $375 million over a three-year period.
State attorneys general also sued tobacco companies over costs of nicotine addiction and health costs to states. Tobacco companies agreed to a $246 billion settlement with 46 states in 1998. The money would be paid out to help with smoking prevention and treatment plans for 25 years.
35 Cited Research Articles
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