Three Maryland counties have filed lawsuits against the e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc., arguing the company intentionally marketed its products to underage customers and contributed to a youth vaping epidemic, court documents detail.
Howard, Anne Arundel and Garrett counties filed separate federal lawsuits in April, The Baltimore Sun reported. They joined Montgomery County and numerous other counties and states who filed similar suits against the multibillion-dollar vaping startup last year.
The new lawsuits allege Juul violated Maryland public nuisance laws and federal racketeering statutes by launching a marketing campaign for its vaping products that targeted youth, using advertising on social media sites and other ‘deceptive’ sales tactics to hook them on the addictive, nicotine-containing products.
Juul is accused of explicitly studying and following ‘Big Tobacco’s playbook’ and launching a ‘blatantly youth-oriented campaign’ that local governments are now struggling to combat.
Such measures have been said to include courting social-media influencers with hashtags and taking out targeted ads on youth-centered websites.
The counties say the purported youth focus allowed the company to ‘operate an even more pervasive, insidious, and successful viral marketing campaign than its predecessors in the tobacco industry.’
The lawsuits goes as far as accusing Juul of compelling ‘a generation of youth, who were never cigarette smokers, into nicotine addiction and forced local governments to spend significant amounts of time and resources combating the youth vaping crisis sweeping their communities.’
As questions were raised over the company and regulators began to take notice, the lawsuits say that Juul later tried to deny its products were designed for young people to maintain their ‘market dominance — which would not be possible if the customer base were in fact only adult smokers seeking to quit.’
The company has since maintained that its target audience are adults and that it does ‘not intend to attract underage users.’
Juul said it has also pulled television, print and digital ads and eliminated most of its flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others across the country.
‘We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn 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,’ Juul said in a statement to the Baltimore Sun.
The Maryland counties’ lawsuits comes just six months Montgomery County filed a separate lawsuit in October. In that filing, Juul were accused of negligence and unjust enrichment.
The lawsuit claimed that the company designed their e-cigarettes and their packaging to appeal to kids, adding that the products can be easily concealed among their schoolwork and electronics.
Adding to the company’s woes, in February a coalition of 39 states announced it would look into the marketing and sales of Juul vaping products, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about the nicotine content in its devices.
The Federal Trade Commission has also sued Juul and Marlboro’s parent company Altria Group – who invested almost $13 billion in the company in 2018 – on April 1, accusing the companies of deciding to stop competing so Altria would make a substantial investment in Juul.
Last year, Maryland introduced a bill prohibiting the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to anyone under 21, except for those enrolled in the military.
New York and New Jersey both banned the sale of flavoured vaping products in May, which took effect on July 1 last year. Several other states took similar measures in the weeks after.
‘This year’s priority was getting the ban on flavored e-cigarettes because we know that those flavors attract young people to vaping and open the pathway to nicotine addiction without them even realizing it,’ Karen dePeyster from Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties said at the time.
‘The problem has gotten so bad that 40% of high school seniors report using vape products, and the sad part is that most of these are young people who would never touch a cigarette. The flavor ban will take away a lot of the appeal of e-cigarettes and we expect the numbers using vape products to decrease.’
President Trump later followed suit by signing in a law raising the minimum age to purchase all tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 nationwide.
At the time, Juul voiced support for the measure, saying it was important to curb underage vaping.
Juul responded to the backlash in November by announcing it would cease production of its mint, fruit and other flavoured pods, and would stick selling only Virginia Tobacco, Classic Tobacco and Menthol flavors in the United States.
They pledged to stop accepting retail orders for the flavors until retailers could adopt age-verification technology to stop teen vaping
The company cited a study published in the medical journal JAMA, which found that nearly 60% of high school students who vape use Juul, the market leader, and mint was the most popular flavor among 10th and 12th graders in the US.
Following its successive woes, now Juul is reportedly planning to lay off a third of its workforce amid the series of regulatory crackdowns that have severely stunted its growth.
The vaping company is set to cut between 800 and 950 jobs from its 3000-strong workforce to stem the bleed from its declining market share. Juul previously fired 650 employees in late 2019 when mango, fruit, crème and cucumber flavours were pulled from production.
‘As part of our ongoing reset, we are constantly evaluating our operations and the best way to position our company for the long term,’ a Juul spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal. ‘We remain focused on earning the trust of our stakeholders to advance the potential for harm reduction for adult smokers while combating underage use.’
Luke Kenton/Daily Mail