The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul, alleging that the vaping giant used sweet flavors and slick marketing to lure kids as young as middle school age to nicotine addiction.
“Through the use of new technologies and deceptive and predatory marketing to children via social media, Juul has turned a generation into addicts unwittingly,” District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said at a news conference in Doylestown to announce the suit, the second filed by an area district attorney. “E-cigarettes are responsible for the largest increase in teen substance abuse in decades.”
The lawsuit is also being brought against Eonsmoke, the New Jersey-based manufacturer of flavored vaping pod products. In addition, the litigation names two local retailers, Gulf Mart in Quakertown and Delta Gas in Warminster, which, according to the lawsuit, were found by federal authorities to have illegally sold e-cigarette products to minors.
While surveys estimate that about 25% of Pennsylvania high schoolers have vaped, Weintraub said Bucks County is “tragically among the leaders” when it comes to student vaping, with over 37% of its teens doing so.
A similar lawsuit was filed in November by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, who attended Wednesday’s press conference.
The Bucks suit alleges the manufacturers violated state consumer protection law, engaging in deceptive and unfair business practices that have harmed the public. It argues district attorneys, on behalf of residents, are entitled to seek civil penalties, restitution, and compensation for damages.
“We want to stop this poison,” said Weintraub.
While the suit doesn’t specify a dollar amount sought, Weintraub said financial gains from the lawsuit would be used for purposes like tobacco education and public information programs, helping to fund treatment for young people who have been hooked or otherwise harmed by the products, and studying the effects of e-cigarette use.
» READ MORE: What vaping, nicotine is doing to kids' brains
At the news conference, officials with some of the county’s school districts spoke about the impact of e-cigarettes on their students and what staff must do to deal with the vaping epidemic.
Carol Klein, a nurse with the Central Bucks School District, said students have admitted to vaping as often as 60 times a day and being unable to kick the habit. She talked about students “ghosting” — secretly vaping in class and swallowing the vapor so as not to be detected.
Klein said district schools have had to seek emergency services help for vaping students who have suffered health problems like high blood pressure and seizures from ingesting so much nicotine.
“We are using the emergency rooms and 911 more than we ever have before,” Klein said.
The Quakertown and Neshaminy School Districts have filed their own e-cigarette lawsuits, while school districts in other states have filed similar litigation to combat vaping manufacturers.
The suits have been filed amid ongoing fears of a rash of lung injuries linked to vaping. As of Jan. 21, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 2,711 cases of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI), though not necessarily from a particular brand, in the past year. The death toll has reached 60.
A Juul spokesperson said Wednesday that the company’s target customers are adults and that it does not intend to attract underage users.
“We remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with local officials, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” said Juul spokesperson Theodore Kwong in a statement.
“As part of that process, we stopped the sale of flavored pods other than tobacco and menthol in November, suspended our television, print and digital product advertising, refrained from lobbying the administration on its draft flavor guidance and support the final policy,” Kwong said. “Our customer base is the world’s one billion adult smokers, and we do not intend to attract underage users.”