Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Wednesday announced a lawsuit against the company she blames for starting the youth vaping epidemic.
Healey’s office filed a lawsuit against electronic cigarette manufacturer JUUL in Massachusetts Superior Court after an investigation into the company’s sales and procedures that began in 2018.
“JUUL bears responsibility for the millions of young people nationwide who are now addicted to e-cigarettes,” Healey said.
In a statement, a JUUL spokesperson said the company had not yet reviewed the complaint but emphasized the company is focused on “earning the trust of society.”
This is the second lawsuit filed against JUUL by a state attorney general this week. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office sued the company Monday over how its products are marketed and sold to teenagers.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states, including New York, Minnesota and California.
The AG said the Massachusetts lawsuit is different from the others because of the documents uncovered by her investigation. Healey said the lawsuit “reveals for the very first time internal JUUL documents and photographs from its original ad campaign that show exactly what this company was trying to do. This is the first real window into JUUL’s original marketing plan and what it did to target our kids.”
Healey said JUUL’s advertising campaign purchased placements on media websites for kids, including Cartoon Network and Seventeen magazine. The AG’s office posted on its website several exhibits showing ad campaign proposals commissioned by JUUL along with the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the company rejected one company’s proposal which would have positioned the JUUL device as new technology replacing the cigarette in the way that smartphones have replaced the original cellular telephones. Instead, the lawsuit said JUUL moved forward in 2015 with a “Vaporized Campaign” that featured cool, young models.
“JUUL’s own documents show the company intentionally chose fashionable models and images that appeal to young people for its ads,” she said.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the company sold and shipped e-cigarettes to underage kids in Massachusetts more than 10,000 times. Her office had previously sued eight other out-of-state vape manufacturers for shipping flavored vaping products to Massachusetts consumers and selling their products online.
Studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than half of teens who vaped, used JUUL products.
The company has been under fire for months and has ended sales of its sweet flavor pods and its mint flavor that accounted for about 70 percent of JUUL’s US sales.
“Today, we’re suing the company that started it all,” Healey said.
“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 transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” a JUUL spokesperson said in a statement. “As part of that process in the U.S., we are preparing comprehensive and scientifically rigorous Premarket Tobacco Product Applications, stopped the sale of flavored pods other than Tobacco and Menthol in November, halted our television, print and digital product advertising, implemented a $1 billion restructuring plan, refrained from lobbying the Administration on its draft flavor guidance and support the final policy. Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users.”
Efforts to crack down on teen e-cigarette use ramped up amid a rash of deaths and illnesses linked to some vaping products. Most who got sick said they vaped products containing THC.
As of January, four Massachusetts residents had died of vaping-related illnesses, officials said. The state had reported 36 confirmed cases to federal officials.
Nationally, more than 2,700 cases of vaping illness have been reported by all 50 states. There have been 64 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. government this month began enforcing restrictions on flavored e-cigarettes in an effort to curb use among teens. Menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market.
Juul had already dropped its best-selling mint and most other flavors before the ban was announced in early January and only sells tobacco and menthol.