CHARLESTON — A federal lawsuit alleges the makers of Juul electronic cigarettes intentionally have marketed their products to children.
“They make it look cool and sleek,” said Brett Preston, one of the attorneys who filed the case Aug. 13 in federal court in Charleston. “It’s all over the place. There is no denying it’s a major problem. The CDC already has called it an epidemic.”
The 65-page potential class action, filed by a mother only identified as R.E. on behalf of her child identified as P.K.E., details the history of electronic cigarettes and how the companies allegedly target youth. It lists Juul Labs Inc., Altria Group Inc. and Philip Morris USA Inc. as defendants. P.K.E. is described as a 16-year-old addicted to Juul e-cigarettes.
Preston said these companies use many of the same strategies that cigarette companies did for years to promote their products to teens and pre-teens.
“It’s exactly like that,” Preston told The West Virginia Record. “It’s the same playbook. The issues here have been around for a long time. Combustible cigarette companies wrote a whole playbook on how to keep a steady supply of customers. It all was sealed in the landmark tobacco litigation, but it was reopened. These guys admittedly went and got that playbook.”
In addition to Preston, fellow Preston & Salango attorneys Ben Salango and Dan R. Snuffer are listed as plaintiffs attorneys as well as Scott Segal and C. Edward Amos II from The Segal Law Firm.
Preston said there are several similar lawsuits across the country.
“There are a lot of lawsuits filed already, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come,” Preston said. “I’m aware of two classes filed – one in California, one in Florida – seeking to cover all users. Kids, new smokers, those trying to kick addiction. That seems like a tall order to me. I don’t know if you’re serving anybody very well if you’re trying to serve everybody.
“The bottom line is that we don’t want our kids getting addicted to nicotine. We’re just trying to get these out of the hands of all of our kids’ friends.”
Preston said Juul’s recently has started a marketing strategy targeted at youth cessation.
“They point to that and say they’re not trying to market toward kids,” Preston told The Record. “One, they just put it in place. Two, there are ads marketing to kids. So, are they doing this because they’re a benevolent company or did their crisis control people tell them to get ahead of the issue?
“I mean, kids already are developing a deceptive personality because of these. They’re trying to sneak around and hide it from their parents.
“The bottom line is I don’t think very many people are going to come down and say this lawsuit is a bad idea. I’ve never seen anything this unhealthy and this bad spread so fast. It’s the biggest wave of addiction I’ve ever seen.”
The complaint mirrors Preston’s comments.
“Because Juul’s marketing turned the Juul into a status symbol for teens, the acute nicotine addiction a Juul fosters is frequently reinforced by the idea – which Juul spread – that Juul use is what ‘cool’ popular kids do in high school,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, the medical community has found itself ill-equipped to develop a treatment for Juul-addicted youth. …
“The teen vaping epidemic was by design, not by accident.”
The complaint claims Juul’s purpose is to foster and maintain nicotine addiction, saying Juul manipulates its nicotine formulation to make it attractive to youth and non-smokers and more potent and addictive than cigarettes.
It also alleges Juul has deceptively marketed its e-cigarettes as an alternative to cigarettes “when it is more potent and more addictive than cigarettes.” Also, it claims Juul falsely represents that Juul pods contain the nicotine equivalent of a pack of cigarettes “when they actually deliver a particularly potent dose of nicotine.”
The complaint says Juul intends to continue to deceive consumers about nicotine content despite its recent “Switch” campaign suggesting Juul is a smoking cessation device and that it is a cost-effective alternative to smoking.
It says Juul relies on viral marketing campaigns to draw new young users, including flavors, free giveaways at live social events and the paid use of third-party “influencers.”
“Defendants use fraudulent and deceptive youth marketing business practices,” the complaint states. “They exploit themes that resonate with teenagers while falsely denying doing so.”
The five-count complaint accuses the defendants of negligent and reckless misconduct, tort of outrage, unjust enrichment, fraud and statute violations. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages, actual damages, restitution, statutory damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney fees and expenses, court costs and other relief.
In addition, it seeks to prohibit and restrain defendants from altering, deleting or destroying records, an order enjoining them from engaging in unlawful conduct and practices and an order certifying the potential class.
“JUUL Labs is committed to eliminating combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world,” Ted Kwong, a spokesman for Juul, told The Record. “Our product is intended to be a viable alternative for current adult smokers only. We do not want non-nicotine users, especially youth, to ever try our product.
Regarding this lawsuit, Kwong said, “To the extent this case alleges otherwise, it is without merit and we will defend our mission throughout this process.”
U.S. District Court case number 2:19-cv-00591