CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawyers have filed a class action federal lawsuit against the makers of the Juul electronic cigarettes, saying the addictive products have been intentionally marketed to youth.
“Because Juul’s marketing turned the Juul into a status symbol for teens, the acute nicotine addiction a Juul fosters is frequently reinforced by the idea — which Juul spread — that Juul use is what ‘cool’ popular kids do in high school,” the lawsuit states.
“As a result, the medical community has found itself ill-equipped to develop a treatment for Juul-addicted youth.”
The 65-page complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia by Charleston lawyers Brett Preston, Ben Salango, Dan Snuffer and Scott Segal.
Several aspects of the complaint compare the tactics used by Juul — as well as the lawsuit itself — to earlier class actions against the tobacco industry that focused on marketing and addiction.
“Like cigarette manufacturers, Juul deceptively marketed its products to teenagers and pre-teens,” Preston stated.
“Parents all over West Virginia are finding small nicotine containing Juul pods in their children’s backpacks and bedrooms that are meant to resemble USB drives.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a client named “P.K.E.” who is described as a 16-year-old addicted to a Juul e-cigarette. The lawsuit suggests the full class of people in West Virginia who purchased or consumed Juul products probably numbers in the thousands.
The class action asks for a several kinds of monetary damages.
A separate class action filed late last month in Florida asks a federal judge to halt the sale of electronic cigarettes.
Juul’s website includes many warnings about the addictive powers of nicotine, as well as statements against the use of the products by youth. The website header states, “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
Juul describes efforts to discourage youth from using e-cigarettes, including the restriction of flavors, improving retailer compliance and discontinuing social media campaigns.
“JUUL Labs is committed to eliminating combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world,” stated Ted Kwong, a spokesman for Juul.
“Our product is intended to be a viable alternative for current adult smokers only. We do not want non-nicotine users, especially youth, to ever try our product.”
Responding to the lawsuit, Kwong added, “To the extent this case alleges otherwise, it is without merit and we will defend our mission throughout this process.”
But the class action suit describes both explicit and subtle efforts to appeal to youth since Juul went on the market in 2015.
“The teen vaping epidemic was by design, not by accident,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit contends Juul has relied on viral marketing campaigns to hook new underage users, including flavors and food imagery, free giveaways at live social events and the paid use of third-party “influencers.”
“Defendants use fraudulent and deceptive youth marketing business practices,” the lawsuit states. “They exploit themes that resonate with teenagers while falsely denying doing so.”