California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week sued e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL for illegally selling and marketing their products to underage teenagers.
Becerra was joined in the lawsuit by the County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit Becerra depicted the company as rapacious and predatory.
“We’ve worked too hard, committed our hard-earned money for too long combatting harmful tobacco use to stand idly by as we now lose Californians to vaping and nicotine addiction,.”
“JUUL adopted the tobacco industry’s infamous playbook, employing advertisements that had no regard for public health and searching out vulnerable targets,” he continued. “Today we take legal action against the deceptive practices that JUUL and the e-cigarette industry employ to lure our kids into their vaping web. We will hold JUUL and any other company that fuels a public health crisis accountable.”
Lacey adopted a similar tone, vowing to “safeguard the health, development and well-being of children, teenagers and young adults throughout California.”
“JUUL and other nicotine product makers must be held accountable when they knowingly fail to take the necessary protective measures and allow the sale of nicotine products to underage buyers,” she alleged.
“California and Los Angeles County have long been leaders in the fight against tobacco and nicotine use. This lawsuit takes that fight to a new front, against a new threat. We will stay vigilant. We will aggressively prosecute offending vape and tobacco companies. And we will win this battle.”
Explaining Los Angeles’s involvement County Supervisor Janice Hahn cited high addiction rates among local adolescents.
“Nearly 1 in 10 high school students in LA County report using e-cigarettes. That is not by chance,” she said. “JUUL has systematically targeted the teen market with everything from the design of their products to their advertisements. With this lawsuit we are going to hold JUUL accountable for their hand in this public health crisis and do what we can to stop this company from creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
The lawsuit basically accuses the San Francisco-based company of lying when it says it only markets and sells its tasty products to adults.
When, in fact, Becerra alleges it targeted young people with seductive ads that did not explain the health risks, including cancer, involved. And it additionally, it often did not verify the ages of people was selling the products too.
To that end, the complaint cites “thousands” of deliveries to “phony names and addresses in California” including 17 deliveries to a mischievous fellow who gave his name as “Beer Can.”
Other times when it knew folks requesting the product were underage JUUL continued to send them marketing materials, the lawsuit alleges.
Becerra depicted the lawsuit as necessary because of an epidemic of teen vaping.
He said that in the years since “JUUL’s launch in 2015, youth vaping in the United States has almost doubled. From 2017 to 2019, e-cigarette use among high school students rose by 135 percent. In 2019, five million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes – an alarming increase of nearly 3 million students in two years. The majority of underage e-cigarette users report that JUUL is their usual brand.”
The complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, says that JUUL contravened state law by selling tobacco products to minors, not including requisite warnings about health effects with its products, creating a health epidemic and violating the privacy rights of minors by sending marketing materials to teenagers who failed to properly verify their age–meaning they pretended to be over 18 but really were not.
New York State filed a similar lawsuit this week and North Carolina has also sued the e-cigarette behemoth.
But University of Pennsylvania law school lecturer Neil Makhija, a consumer lawyer, told the California Globe that Becerra’s lawsuit is a cut above the rest.
“California’s complaint is much more detailed” than any other state’s and “introduces several new facts to the public relating to Juul’s sales and distribution practices, including serious weaknesses in their age-verification process,” he said.
JUUL issued a robotic statement in response to the lawsuit that didn’t really dispute anything California alleged.
“While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, 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,” said spokesman Ted Kwong.
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