California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Monday morning the state is suing Juul Labs Inc., the e-cigarette company based in San Francisco, alleging the company markets its products to teenagers and fails to give warnings about the product’s potential health risks.
The product was originally marketed to those addicted to cigarettes as a healthier alternative. However, research has shown that “many Juul users continue to smoke cigarettes and that teenagers who were not likely at risk to start smoking cigarettes have done so as a result of their use of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes,” according to the Attorney General’s news release.
This announcement comes on the heels of the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest vaping-related illness numbers showing that of the 2,172 vaping-related illnesses in the country, 14% have impacted people 18 years old or younger. Additionally, 42 people have died from vaping-related illnesses as of Thursday.
One Juul pod provides 200 puffs, or the approximate equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, the lawsuit says.
“We’ve worked too hard, committed our hard-earned money for too long combating harmful tobacco use to stand idly by as we now lose Californians to vaping and nicotine addiction,” Becerra said in a statement. “Juul adopted the tobacco industry’s infamous playbook, employing advertisements that had no regard for public health and searching out vulnerable targets.”
The lawsuit alleges that Juul illegally:
- Failed to include required warnings about exposure to chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.
- Sold tobacco products directly to underage persons.
- Sold tobacco products directly to consumers without properly verifying their age.
- Violated the privacy rights of minors by sending marketing material to the email addresses of underage individuals who failed age verification on Juul’s website.
- Created a public health epidemic, particularly among young people, with an addictive and harmful product
Austin Finan, a spokesperson for Juul, said the company hasn’t yet received the complaint, but remains “focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”
This isn’t the first lawsuit filed against the company, which was founded in 2015. Juul also is being sued by multiple states, with North Carolina the first to file in May, and faces a federal investigation into whether the company’s early advertising campaigns helped initiate the teen vaping epidemic.
“Nearly 1 in 10 high school students in LA County report using e-cigarettes. That is not by chance,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “Juul has systematically targeted the teen market with everything from the design of their products to their advertisements.
Juul also hosted promotional events across California to distribute free samples of Juul devices and their flavor pods to a “young, trend-setting audience,” according to the state’s news release.
The campaign marketed flavors such as mango, cool mint, crème brulee and cucumber. Since the launch of the products, Juul has changed flavors to be less appealing to youth, the company has said. For example, the company changed the “crème brulee” flavor to “crème.” In October, the company suspended sales of all flavors.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 66% of teens reported that they believed only flavoring ingredients were in their e-cigarette.
Finan, Juul spokesman, said the company has stopped accepting orders for Mint JUULpods in the U.S., suspended all broadcast, print, and digital product advertising in the U.S. and are investing in scientific research to ensure the quality of our FDA Premarket Tobacco Product Application application and expanding our commitment to develop new technology to reduce youth use.
“Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users,” Finan said.
However, the company’s advertising techniques had a direct impact on youth. The American Medical Association reported that 25% of high school students and 10% of middle school students have vaped in the past year. Most underage e-cigarette users report that Juul is their usual brand, according to the state’s announcement.
Since the company’s launch in 2015, youth vaping in the United States almost doubled. In the past two years, e-cigarette use among high school students rose by 135%.
“These early marketing techniques paid off,” the suit claims. “Millions of American youth started ‘Juuling’ and posted images and videos of themselves and others ‘Juuling’ on their social media sites. Others created Juul memes and the marketing campaign became viral,” according to the lawsuit.
Juul sales currently make up 64% of the country’s e-cigarette market — in just 2018, U.S.-based sales of the devices surpassed $1 billion.
“It has become so popular that ‘Juuling’ has become a verb,” the suit says.