Pa. AG Shapiro sues Juul Labs for ‘epidemic levels’ of teen vaping

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announces a major lawsuit against vaping company Juul at Radnor High School in Wayne, Pa. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announces a major lawsuit against vaping company Juul at Radnor High School in Wayne, Pa. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

Pennsylvania has sued the e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs, joining Pennsylvania school districts, district attorneys and other states intent on reining in teen vaping.

At a press conference in the Radnor High School auditorium in Wayne, Pennsylvania, attorney general Josh Shapiro described how Juul, and other e-cigarette companies, swept in to appeal to young people as youth smoking was on the decline.

“They lied to the American people when promoting their product as safe, and they manipulated consumers by masking risks with catchy ads featuring young people looking cool and beautiful with their Juuls,” he said.

In the complaint, attorneys for the commonwealth allege that Juul misled the public by marketing e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation method, while not initially acknowledging that vaping their product delivers more nicotine to users than a traditional cigarette.

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Teen vaping rose dramatically in the four and a half years the company has been around. Around one in four high schoolers in Pennsylvania has vaped in the last month, according to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey. For middle schoolers, the number is one in ten.

The company failed to ensure minors could not buy their product online, and aggressively marketed the products to teens on social media, in direct marketing, and at convenience stores.

Flavors such as Peanut Jam, Spicy Watermelon, Cinnamon Snap and Coco Mint were all rolled out as a way to make the product palatable to teens, according to the complaint.

All of this violates the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, one of six counts leveled in the complaint.

“They created biased, unsubstantiated documents that backed up phony claims,” Shapiro told a group of assembled high school students.

Juul Labs spokesman Austin Finan said the company has not yet reviewed the complaint, however, “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.”

The company has stopped selling fruity and sweet-flavored cartridges for e-cigarettes, a move the Food and Drug Administration now requires to combat what it calls “epidemic levels of youth use of e-cigarettes.”

The Bucks and Montgomery County district attorneys have already sued the manufacturer, as have some school districts in the commonwealth.

Shapiro said attorneys in his office plan to request an injunction, seeking to halt the sale of Juul products in Pennsylvania during the lawsuit, as well as monetary damages, and for the company to fund education and counseling programs for residents addicted to nicotine.

While Shapiro spoke, 60 student ambassadors stood on stage next to him. Afterwards, they were able to ask questions and spoke publicly about how they view vaping.

“I think that did used to be the common misconception, that there was less nicotine content” in e-cigarettes, said ambassador Rachel Marciano. When asked if she knows students who have had trouble quitting vaping, she said, “Many.”

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