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State attorney general sues e-cigarette maker Juul

Office of the Attorney General

New York’s attorney general is suing Juul, the nation’s largest manufacturer of electronic cigarettes, saying the “deceptive and misleading marketing of its e-cigarettes” has contributed to the youth vaping epidemic in New York state. 

Attorney General Tish James said the skyrocketing increase in the number of teenagers who are vaping has become a major health crisis that needs to be fought on multiple fronts. 

“Today, we are taking action by announcing a comprehensive lawsuit against Juul Labs, Incorporated,” James said at a news conference in Manhattan.  

The lawsuit claims that the company violated business laws that prohibit false advertising, and is seeking damages of $5,000 for each instance of deceptive marketing practices.

It also alleges that Juul is in violation of public health laws that forbid the sale of tobacco-related products to minors, and is seeking civil penalties of $1,000 for each instance of a sale of the company’s products to minors.

The lawsuit also wants Juul to pay into an abatement fund to help remedy the harm it has allegedly caused due to increased teen vaping.  

The New York lawsuit comes a day after the state of California took Juul to court for allegedly targeting minors. The state of North Carolina has also taken legal action. James said the last straw for her came after a 17-year-old from the Bronx died in October from a lung ailment connected to vaping. 

“I cannot sit back and allow this to continue to occur in the state of New York,” James said. “Particularly after the death of a young person in the Bronx that was due to vaping.”  

The lung ailment has sickened more than 1,000 people across the country and resulted in 34 deaths. The illness is so far linked to black-market marijuana vaping products, but researchers still don’t know the exact cause.  

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids praised the attorney general’s action. The group’s Matt Meyers said in the past two years, the percentage of high school students who vape has more than doubled, and the number of middle school students who use e-cigarettes has more than tripled. 

“It is the most rapid rise in kids addicted to nicotine or any other substance in the more than 40 years the federal government has been measuring drug abuse in our country,” Meyers said.  

Adam Fine, principal of the East Hampton High School on Long Island, said 65% of the 900 students in his school are vaping. He said teachers and other staff spent a significant amount of time trying to prevent kids from using e-cigarettes in school. 

“It’s interfering with every aspect of the school day,” Fine said.

Juul, in a statement, said the company is already taking steps to curb illegal teen use of its products. It has stopped filling orders for mint-flavored e-cigarettes in the U.S. and has suspended all of its advertising. The company in mid-October suspended the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

“While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain 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,” said Juul spokesman Austin Finan. “Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users.” 

The New York State Vapor Association also responded. Spokeswoman Spike Babaian said the group represents 700 mom-and-pop vape shops that generally do not sell Juul products “due to the extremely high level of nicotine” in them compared to other vaping products. 

“We sincerely believe that the New York State Legislature should work with the NYSVA to enact common-sense regulations that we have supported for years," Babaian said. “The goal should be to keep Juul and other nicotine products out of the hands of minors. By regulating vapor products responsibly, New York could avoid pushing adults who depend on flavored products back to smoking cigarettes, to make it themselves or turn to the black market, all dangerous propositions.”