The legal fight against teen e-cigarette use continues as school districts nationwide are filing lawsuits against Juul Labs, Inc. and other vape companies. The Guardian reports that over a dozen US school districts have filed lawsuits against vape companies amidst the ongoing teen vape epidemic. The legal challenges come from across the country with school districts in New York, Missouri, Kansas, Arizona, and California suing to hold the industry accountable.
The districts’ suits seek to recoup financial losses from managing student e-cigarette use at school. The lawsuits cite Juul’s gross negligence in deceptive marketing targeting minors. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s recent study, 27.5 percent of American high school students and 10.5 percent of middle school students say they have used e-cigarettes in the past month.
Many districts say the vaping epidemic requires schools to expend significant resources of their limited budgets to counter teen e-cigarette use. Augustin Gonzalez, principal at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, said that monitoring student vaping has cut “countless hours” from instructional time. Districts have had to take extreme measures to combat students’ vape use that affect schools’ academic and financial success.
“I studied to be a teacher, not a private investigator to target vaping products,” he said. “The loss of instructional time has had a huge impact on our schools.”
Districts across the country have had to take extreme measures to combat students’. District officials say they needed to hire full-time staff members to watch for students vaping in school hallways and bathrooms. Schools have been forced to counter the epidemic by removing bathroom doors, banning USB flash drives, and finding ways to discipline students that won’t lead to them vaping more often. Some have even installed vaping detection systems that cost up to $40,000.
The majority of school districts that filed Juul lawsuits mention the company’s allegedly deceptive advertising and teen targeting while profiting from the vaping epidemic. One district claims the company intentionally targeted students while using marketing language that told adolescents its products were “totally safe.” The district’s suit accuses Juul of intentionally using influencers in its campaigns that would appeal to young people.
Districts’ officials say the company is profiting while the nation’s youth are at risk. Juul’s revenues grew by 700 percent in 2017 to $200 million. A year later, they hit the $1 billion mark and forecast revenue above $3 billion in 2019. One school district accused Juul of racketeering, creating an epidemic and public nuisance, and gross negligence. Another cited students’ inability to “fully realize the dangerous and addictive nature of Juul products” and that the company recklessly disregarded the risks of its products.
The district lawsuits coincide with increased scrutiny and regulation aimed at Juul and other vaping companies. Across the US, reports of vaping-related illnesses have increased, affecting teenagers and young persons in particular. Doctors and patients have reported an outbreak of lung diseases tied to e-cigarette use with more than 2,000 cases of vaping-related lung injury. It is still unclear what percentage of cases are tied to nicotine vape products versus THC vape products, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning cautioning Americans against vaping until more is known.
Medical professionals and educators have raised concerns about a number of other health and behavioral issues sprung by the vaping epidemic. Yogi Hale Hendlin, a research associate at the Environmental Health Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco noted the adverse effects nicotine can have on the developing brain.
“Nicotine use in the formative years of brain development can rewire brains to have less focused attention or ability to concentrate on one thing for a sustained amount of time,” he said. “It also inhibits impulse control, which presents a big problem for society at large in the long term.”
While school districts file Juul lawsuits, pressure against the company and the industry has built up nationwide from all sides. The states of New York and California are suing Juul, and the company has been sued by individual families affected by addiction. Opposition reached the federal level when the Trump administration considered plans for a national ban on certain e-cigarette flavors; the administration dropped the plans.
Jeremiah Mock, a researcher at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UCSF, said that legislation at the national level is falling behind the scale of the epidemic.
“The use of Juul has undeniably changed school culture and had a profound effect on student experience,” he said. “In the absence of clear and effective FDA regulation, local jurisdictions have to do whatever they can.”
Amidst pressure, Juul has worked to overhaul its image. The company stopped sales of certain flavored vape pods, including the popular mint flavor, while halting all US advertising. The company has repeatedly denied that it marketed it to teens.
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