Juul hit with another state lawsuit for allegedly targeting kids

A recent study found that one-quarter of high school kids vape, but one school principal says that's a massive underestimate.
Image: A person smokes a Juul e-cigarette in Brooklyn, New York, on Dec. 20, 2018.
New York state has filed a lawsuit against Juul, alleging that the company's advertising targeted teens. Gabby Jones / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Erika Edwards

Juul's flashy marketing campaign targeted kids, leading to a dramatic rise in the youth vaping epidemic, a lawsuit filed against the e-cigarette giant Tuesday alleges.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that the state is suing Juul Labs, Inc for what it calls "deceptive and misleading" marketing to youth. Similar lawsuits against Juul have also been filed in California and North Carolina.

"When Juul launched in 2015, New York consumers were introduced to the company through targeted launch parties," James said during a news conference Tuesday.

"Juul engaged in direct outreach to high schoolers, to at least one New York City high school, where a Juul representative falsely stated to students that their products are safer than cigarettes," she added.

The revelation that Juul representatives had spoken directly to students during school assemblies was brought to light during a House subcommittee hearing on youth e-cigarette use back in July.

In an email, a spokesman for Juul said the company is "focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes."

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

The spokesman, Austin Finan, added the company had not yet reviewed this latest complaint. Juul pulled most of its flavored pods from the market, including mint, mango, fruit and creme. The company still sells menthol and tobacco flavors.

The number of youth using e-cigarettes has skyrocketed in recent years. Research published in September found that between 2017 and 2019, rates of vaping more than doubled among middle and high school students.

In that study, more than 25 percent of high school seniors said they used e-cigarettes. But according to a high school principal who attended Tuesday's press conference with the New York attorney general, that percentage grossly underrepresents the true number of kids using e-cigarettes.

"You’d be hard-pressed in my building — and I can generalize that probably to other high schools — to find students who have not tried vaping," said Adam Fine, principal of East Hampton High School on Long Island. Schools are not listed as plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit.

Juul has not been implicated in the more than 2,000 lung illnesses linked to vaping reported in nearly every state over the past few months. Those illnesses are called EVALI, short for e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury.

But it was the vaping-related death of a 17-year-old boy in New York City that prompted James to move forward with the state's lawsuit against Juul, she said, because the company accounts for about 70 percent of the e-cigarette market.

It's unknown whether the boy had been using Juul products.

Also Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of an analysis of the average EVALI patient: young, white men who’ve vaped THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient.

According to the CDC report, 83 percent of hospitalized EVALI patients vaped THC. More than half are male, and 78 percent are relatively young, under age 35.

Many arrived at the hospital struggling to breathe, coughing, and dealing with chest pain, abdominal pain and nausea, as well as fever, chills and weight loss — symptoms that mimic the flu and pneumonia.

The CDC reminds doctors and nurses to rule out other causes of illness before making an EVALI diagnosis. There is no lab test that can diagnose the lung illness, but there is a test — and available treatment — for influenza.

Follow NBC HEALTH on Twitter & Facebook.