CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston attorney Rusty Webb says several counties and municipalities in West Virginia have signed on to a federal lawsuit to take down e-cigarette maker JUUL.
“I’m calling it the second epidemic in reference to the opioids,” Webb told MetroNews Monday. “This is just another health statistic that’s not good.”
Webb said five counties have signed contracts so far including Mercer, Raleigh, Greenbrier, Gilmer and Mineral.
Several boards of education have joined the suit, including the Tucker County Board of Education, in an effort to highlight the negative impacts vaping has on high school students.
The Mercer County Commission first decided to file suit this month claiming JUUL’s false marketing has created a nuisance, from which the county needs money to abate the problem.
“(JUUL) is claiming it’s safe and not addictive and that it’s safer than tobacco cigarettes, which is not true,” Webb said.
Webb said more than 35 percent of West Virginia high school students currently use e-cigarettes, which is a 150 percent increase from 2017 to 2019.
In 2019, more than 60 percent of high school students tried e-cigarettes, which is up from more than 44 percent in 2017.
Webb said what they’re seeking is similar to lawsuits involving the misuse of opioids.
“We want to get monies to the counties and boards of education to abate the product by way of spending money for prevention, treatment and education,” he said.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources released a report in Jan. 2020 called West Virginia Youth and Vaping: A Dangerous Combination. In it, the DHHR referred to the rise in vaping use as “alarming” and a problem that could impact brain and social development.
JUUL did not comment on the lawsuit to MetroNews, but has tried to position itself as a provider of safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes for adult smokers. In recent statements, the company has said that it supports efforts to curb underage tobacco use.
The company has recently settled several lawsuits in other states alleging they illegally targeted young people in their marketing.
Webb is encouraging more West Virginia county boards of education, county boards of health and county commissions to join the suit if they want funding to fight JUUL.
“It would be best if we were all in this together,” he said. “I’m particularly encouraging the boards of education because they can take the role for the teenagers and then the counties can take the role for young adults and up.”