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MN files lawsuit against JUUL over alleged youth targeting

The lawsuit targets JUUL, who the state says has played a central role in the e-cigarette epidemic by using unlawful and deceptive trade practices to hook teens.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The State of Minnesota is filing a lawsuit against Juul Labs, alleging that the e-cigarette and vaping giant specifically targeted young people with its products. 

Governor Tim Walz, State Attorney General Keith Ellison and health officials announced the lawsuit Wednesday, saying that e-cigarettes and vaping have quickly erased years of progress in moving teens and young people away from tobacco. The lawsuit targets JUUL, who the state says has played a central role in the e-cigarette and vaping epidemic by using unlawful and deceptive trade practices to hook teens.  

"Armed with a youth-oriented design and taste, a highly addictive but easy-to-smoke and less harsh substance, a concealable and inconspicuous device, and an aggressive youth-directed marketing campaign which included various music/movie themed 'launch parties,' JUUL quickly rose from a relatively obscure startup in 2015, to a company valued at $38 billion by early 2019," the lawsuit asserts.

In fact, the state maintains that JUUL purposely used fruity and desert flavors, social media platforms their young influencers, and memorable hashtags to get teens into vaping.

“In Minnesota, we have a special duty to take on this fight,” Attorney General Ellison said. “Twenty years ago, we led the nation in taking on Big Tobacco. Now JUUL has stepped in to deceive consumers just like Big Tobacco did and has taken it to a whole new level. We’re not going to stand by while this company tries to deceive and addict a whole new generation of our youth.”

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“Students across the state tell me they feel preyed upon by JUUL,” added Governor Tim Walz. “As a father of two teenagers and Governor of Minnesota, I’m saying enough is enough. We’re going to hold JUUL accountable for the vaping epidemic they started in Minnesota.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including funds to treat the health impacts associated with young people and vaping, to pay lawyer fees and court costs, and to reimburse the state of Minnesota for it's expenditures in trying to keep children away from e-cigarettes. 

It also asks the court to demand that JUUL:

  • permanently stop marketing to young people
  • fund anti-vaping and e-cigarette public education
  • fund clinical vaping cessation programs for young people
  • reveal details of its marketing research and program

Ellison says  the state is still assessing the damages and financial impact of JUUL's conduct, so damages have not been calculated.

When asked about the recent outbreak of lung injuries from people vaping illicit THC products, the attorney general said that would be handled in a separate action once the responsible parties are identified.

He said Tuesday's lawsuit is about proving links between Juul's marketing practices and the youth nicotine addiction epidemic.

JUUL spokesmman Ted Kwong shared a statement from the company, detailing policy changes intended to improve its business practices.  

“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 convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes," says Kwong. "As part of that process, we recently stopped accepting orders for our Mint JUULpods in the U.S., suspended all broadcast, print, and digital product advertising in the U.S. and are investing in scientific research to ensure the quality of our FDA Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) application and expanding our commitment to develop new technology to reduce youth use. Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users."    

State health officials say the explosion of e-cigarette use and vaping have wiped out the last 10 years’ worth of progress that Minnesota made in fighting youth tobacco use. Research says from 2000 to 2017, the prevalence of smoking in high school decreased by a whopping 70 percent. The rise of vaping, which began to take hold around 2017, erased that progress. 

  • In October 2019, MDH reported that in the last three years, the percentage of 11th graders who have vaped in the last 30 days has grown more than 50 percent, the percentage of 9th graders has grown 75 percent, and the percentage of 8th graders has grown nearly 100 percent. 
  • This means that that in the last 30 days, 11 percent of all Minnesota 8th-graders have vaped, 16-percent of 9th-graders have vaped, and 26 percent of 11th-graders have vaped.
  • 75 percent of Minnesota youth who use e-cigarettes had never smoked a cigarette before.

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