Lung injuries related to vaping began to appear on hospitals’ radar screens last summer, and the e-cigarette industry has been singed by criticism ever since.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported 42 deaths based on e-cigarette or vaping product use as of December 10, along with more than 2,400 cases of lung injury related to the products. In response, some cities and other local bodies have banned either e-cigarette flavors, or just e-cigarettes overall.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says five vaping-related deaths and 200 illnesses have occurred in Illinois, which on December 12 filed suit against high-profile e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, Inc.
State Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the suit, which alleges the company’s online store did not adequately screen for age and also targeted smokers hoping to quit cigarettes is part of a “multi-faceted approach” that also could include policy changes and enforcement actions. The suit seeks $50,000 in damages per deceptive or unfair act.
“What can begin as kids sneaking into school restrooms to vape fruity or candy flavors, which is troubling on its own, that can lead to minors using other forms of tobacco and to addiction challenges that go beyond the use of tobacco,” Raoul said at a press conference.
An earlier suit filed by five youth ages 18 to 20 from Illinois who claim they got hooked similarly alleges the company used deceptive practices to lure minors and understated the nicotine content of its products, making its e-cigarettes easy to conceal and available in flavors like fruit medley.
The Illinois plaintiffs, who hail from Chicago, the suburbs and Downstate, say they got hooked on e-cigarettes as young as age 15, lured by advertisements on social media and minty flavors. They filed suit in September; Juul recently announced it would no longer sell mint-flavored e-cigarettes.
Four of the vaping-related deaths occurred in California, and the California Attorney General also recently sued Juul, as have several other states including Wisconsin and Minnesota. The California suit claims that the San Francisco-based company purposefully aimed its advertising at youth and did not warn them about the risks of vaping, which include cancer, birth defects and reproductive injuries.
Filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the lawsuit also alleges that Juul violated the privacy of teenagers by sending them marketing materials after holding onto e-mail addresses they submitted to the company’s website during the age verification process.
Juul, which claims that its products are targeted only toward adults, and whose CEO K.C. Crosthwaite agreed that the brand’s popularity among high school students was “unacceptable,” faces $2,500 in fines per violation for what could be millions of violations.
Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey claimed the lawsuit was only aimed to stop the company from continuing to market its wares to minors and based on a 21-month investigation by her office that found e-cigarette samples being handed out at concerts, street festivals and movie theaters.
Lacey announced the lawsuit alongside Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, and Los Angeles Supervisor Janice Hahn. “Juul adopted the tobacco industry’s infamous playbook, employing advertisements that had no regard for public health, and searching out vulnerable targets,” Becerra said in a statement.
Added Hahn, also in a statement, “Juul has systematically targeted the teen market with everything from the design of their products to their advertising.”
A class action lawsuit has also been filed.
The courts will determine whether you can put that in your pipe and vape it.