A federal lawsuit accusing Juul Labs Inc. of luring South Carolina youth into vaping was filed Monday by a Charleston County teen and his mother, who say the company’s marketing misinformed him about nicotine content and landed him in the hospital.
The teen, now 17 and identified only by his initials in court filings, began vaping and developed a nicotine addiction when he was 15, according to the complaint filed Monday.
Nonsmoking students at his high school were buying Juul electronic cigarettes at local convenience stores, and he did so because he liked the flavors. The complaint claims that he and other students were unaware of how much nicotine the products contained.
He continued vaping until August 2019, when he lost control of his breath and was rushed to the Medical University of South Carolina emergency room. He spent more than two weeks undergoing testing in the intensive care unit, said John Guerry, one of the Theos Law Firms attorneys who filed the case.
By the time doctors realized the teen had EVALI, or “e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury,” he’d suffered a series of lung and cardiovascular issues, including acute respiratory failure and low white blood cell count.
Vaping-related emergency room visits increased sharply in August, when the plaintiff was hospitalized. They peaked the next month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and authorities have recorded 2,807 EVALI-related hospitalizations and 68 deaths in the United States as of mid-February. At least 35 cases, including one that proved fatal for an Upstate resident with underlying health problems, have been identified in South Carolina.
Cases have gradually slowed since then, according to CDC data, as public awareness about the risks of vaping THC and vitamin E acetate has spread.
Juul did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
Several people, and even authorities in other states, have accused Juul of targeting young nonsmokers with its advertising campaigns and sweet flavors when it launched in the summer of 2015. Some of the strongest accusations come from a lawsuit the Massachusetts attorney general filed in February, outlining how the company ran ads that appeared on educational sites for children like coolmath.com and socialstudiesforkids.com.
South Carolina’s attorney general has joined an investigation with dozens of other states, focused on whether the California-based company’s marketing tactics are to blame for the ballooning number of teenagers vaping.
In 2019, the South Carolina offered tax incentives to the company, encouraging Juul to begin production in Lexington County.
Sara Coello/The Post & Courier