Consumers and government entities accusing Juul and Altria of unleashing a youth vaping epidemic cleared a hurdle in sprawling multidistrict litigation against the companies when a California federal judge found that their public nuisance and negligence claims pass legal muster.
In a 152-page order, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick said the plaintiffs accusing the companies of deceptively marketing vaporizers to hook kids on nicotine had adequately pled their cases, rejecting a host of arguments by Juul Labs Inc. and Altria Group Inc.
He said the complaints adequately claimed that Juul’s conduct – such as target social media marketing and sale of mango-and mint-flavored products – “created and maintained an illicit youth market of school-age youth addicted to nicotine, causing extreme disruption in classrooms and unique harm to schools.”
“This alleged conduct hooked millions of teenagers onto vaping with an addictive product that is easily concealed in schools, and foreseeably caused a multitude of problems for the school districts,” Judge Orrick said.
The design and deceptive marketing claims undergirded the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act claims in the suits, which say Juul and Altria executives conspired for the common purpose of “maintaining and expanding the number of nicotine-addicted e-cigarette users” to grow Juul’s “massive, and ill-gotten, share of the e-cigarette market.”
Altria has argued it can’t be held liable for Juul’s actions before the 2018 deal, disputing the plaintiffs’ claims that it worked with Juul behind the scenes beforehand and laid the groundwork for the crisis with its lobbying efforts. Juul, meanwhile, has argued that there is nothing illegal about selling flavored products, blasting the suits as “expansive and unfounded.”
Representatives of the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.