Two lawsuits have been filed against JUUL Labs, Inc., which makes e-cigarettes, claiming that the company deliberately targeted children as potential users without making it known that the product is as addictive and harmful as traditional cigarettes.
The lawsuits, which were brought on behalf of two young e-cigarette users, were filed in U.S. District Court in Trenton on Aug. 12 and Aug. 13 by attorney Domenic Sanginiti of the Lawrence Township-based law firm of Stark & Stark.
New Jersey residents S.R., 19, and P.O., 20, filed the lawsuits – which seek punitive damages – against JUUL Labs, Inc., PAX Labs, Inc., Altria Group, Inc. and Philip Morris USA, Inc.
S.R. and P.O. began using e-cigarettes, or vaping, when they were in high school. S.R. began vaping when he was 16 years old and P.O. began vaping when he was 17 years old. They were introduced to e-cigarettes by friends.
JUUL is a small, USB-shaped e-cigarette, Sanginiti said. It is similar to other e-cigarettes, but differs because it has high levels of nicotine. One JUUL pod contains nicotine that is equivalent to 20 traditional cigarettes, and some teenagers are vaping several JUUL pods daily, he said.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, the JUUL pods come in assorted flavors that are appealing to young people. P.O. preferred mango flavor and S.R. liked mango and fruit medley flavors.
As a result, S.R. and P.O. became victims “of Defendants’ orchestrated efforts to addict a new generation of teenagers to nicotine,” the lawsuit said. They have developed a severe nicotine addiction through the use of JUUL that has resulted in permanent brain injury in their “vulnerable, developing brain(s),” it said.
“Defendants’ wrongful conduct in marketing, promoting, manufacturing, designing and selling JUUL substantially contributed to (the victims’) life-altering injuries,” the lawsuit said.
“In 2015, JUUL set out to recapture the magic of the most successful product ever made – the cigarette. Due to regulations and court orders preventing the major cigarette manufacturers from marketing to young people, youth smoking had decreased to its lowest level in decades,” the lawsuit said.
But taking advantage of regulatory inaction and loopholes for e-cigarettes, JUUL developed and marketed a highly addictive product that could be packaged and sold to young people, the lawsuit said.
“Youth is and has always been the most sought-after market for cigarette companies, because they are the most vulnerable to nicotine addiction and are most likely to become customers for life,” it stated.
Sanginiti said that JUUL’s “irresponsible and intentional marketing toward teenagers has been predatory since the company launched.” JUUL used social media and viral marketing campaigns to attract teenagers and lure them into using a dangerous product, he said.
The lawsuit filed against JUUL and the other defendants lists specific charges – products liability, failure to warn, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, intentional misrepresentation of the products and their risks, and negligence in promoting and selling to young people under 26 years old.
The lawsuit claims that the e-cigarette’s design is “inherently defective” because it contains more nicotine than JUUL represents and significantly more nicotine than traditional cigarettes. It is made to create and sustain addiction, especially because it uses flavors that appeal to youths.
It also accuses JUUL and the other defendants of intentional misrepresentation because they claimed – through the media, advertising, social media, packaging and promotions – that JUUL products were safe or not harmful.
JUUL and the other defendants committed fraud because they “fraudulently and deceptively sold or partnered to sell products to S.R. and P.O. as non-addictive nicotine delivery systems, or less addictive nicotine products than cigarettes, which defendants knew to be untrue,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit claims that JUUL’s e-cigarettes did not contain adequate warnings that its use could result in strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular injuries, and that they are “powerfully addictive” and are not safe for users under 26 years old.
“What we are seeing with JUUL is essentially Big Tobacco 2.0,” Sanginiti said. “This product is marketed just like cigarettes from decades ago, and JUUL is essentially copying the advertising tactics of Big Tobacco (by) using the same fraudulent and deceptive practices that exploit teenagers.”
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration said that more than 3.6 million middle school and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2018, which is double the amount from 2017.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that vaping – the use of e-cigarettes – increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2018.