PHILADELPHIA – The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has added itself to the growing number of governmental and education entities suing vaping products manufacturer JUUL, for allegedly breaking the law by marketing its high nicotine-content products to an impressionable teenage audience.
On Monday, the Commonwealth and the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against JUUL Labs, Inc. of San Francisco.
The lawsuit accuses JUUL of misleading the public and specifically, teenagers, by marketing electronic cigarettes as a way to stop smoking – but not acknowledging that their vaping products provide more nicotine than a traditional cigarette.
JUUL products have been on the market since July 2015.
Statistics from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey show that one out of every four Pennsylvania high school student had used vaping products in the last month, along with one out of every 10 middle school students.
Other deceptive marketing practices JUUL allegedly employed were an aggressive campaign directed towards the teenage customer base, through direct marketing, in stores and notably, on social media.
The complaint alleges that product flavors like Peanut Jam, Spicy Watermelon, Cinnamon Snap and Coco Mint were utilized as a way to make the product more attractive to teenage users.
The suit seeks JUUL to stop selling its products in Pennsylvania.
Nearby New Jersey has already enacted a ban of flavored electronic cigarettes.
The states of New York and California, a number of Pennsylvania school districts and the district attorneys of both Bucks County and Montgomery County, have already sued the manufacturer. In some instances, governments are hiring private lawyers to pursue these cases on contingency fees.
“JUUL knowingly targeted young people with tactics similar to the tobacco companies’ playbook. There is no proof these e-cigarettes are safe and until there is, we need to get JUUL products off shelves and out of the hands of young people. JUUL manipulated data to deceive consumers about the nicotine content of its products,” Shapiro said.
“First, JUUL estimated their products delivered substantially more nicotine than its competitors in a patent, and then doubled back to say the products were comparable to an average cigarette. They disregarded their growing audience of young users, taking no action, as their profit margins skyrocketed on the backs of American kids.”
Last September, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issued a warning that JUUL had illegally marketed its products by claiming they were safer than cigarettes.
A spokesman for the company stated while JUUL has not yet reviewed the litigation, it is committed to gaining the public’s trust and curbing underage use of its products.
“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,” JUUL Labs spokesman Austin Finan said.
For violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, public nuisance, strict products liability, negligence, willful breach of a special duty and unjust enrichment, and in the alternative to JUUL products being taken off the market in Pennsylvania, the plaintiff is seeking:
• Restitution in an amount in excess of $50,000, including interest and delay damages, reserving the Commonwealth’s or any other person or entity’s right to seek additional compensatory damages in the event that additional long-term negative health effects or other damages associated with e-cigarette use are discovered in the future;
• The funding of an independent corrective public education campaign to inform Pennsylvanians about the true health risks and consequences of use of defendant’s tobacco products and to remedy the conduct complained of herein and to make whole those who have been injured by defendant’s conduct;
• The funding of tobacco product cessation programs for Pennsylvanians addicted to nicotine, including the provision of nicotine replacement therapy and addiction counseling for dependent tobacco users;
• Disbursements and costs; and
• Attorney’s fees, plus such other and further relief as it deems just and proper.
The plaintiff is represented by Deputy Attorney General Joseph S. Swartz, Chief Deputy Attorney General Edmund J. Berger, Executive Deputy Attorney General James A. Donahue III and First Deputy Attorney General Michelle A. Henry, of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office’s Tobacco Enforcement Section.
The defendant has not yet secured legal counsel.
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 200200962
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com