he mother of a boy who began using Juul electronic vaping devices at 13-years-old, is suing Juul Labs, alleging the Delaware corporation used deceptive marketing practices and failed to add nicotine warnings on its packages for years.
It’s the first lawsuit filed against Juul in the state.
According to the 37-page lawsuit, the minor was drawn to the electronic vaping device after seeing advertisements on social media sites.
“To him, the advertisements were appealing because they featured bold coloring, displayed attractive and youthful models, and depicted people laughing and having fun, wrote attorney Kristine Kraft with Schlichter, Bogard & Denton.
Those advertisements, the suit says, did not say that the Juul pods contained nicotine. According to the Surgeon General, two-thirds of teen and young adult Juul users are unaware that Juul always contains the highly addictive additive.
The lawsuit is also accusing Franco’s Smoke Shop of selling Juul Labs’ products to the minor, identified in court documents as A.B. The convenience store, out of Ballwin, sells a wide variety of e-cigarettes, cigars and pipes.
The minor’s mother, 34-year-old Jamie Beyer of O’Fallon, discovered her son had been using the mango or mint flavored Juul pods every day for a period of two years. The minor used two pods a week. For comparison, Juul claims, each pod is equivalent to about a pack of 20 regular cigarettes in nicotine content.
But the suit contends a higher level of nicotine is being consumed from Juul Labs’ products than regular cigarettes.
“Studies have shown that the Juul pods contain significantly higher concentration of nicotine than that of cigarettes and absorption rates that are up to four times higher than that of cigarettes,” the suit says.
Juul Labs allegedly combines nicotine with benzoic acid to create a “nicotine salt,” which enables users to inhale the product without the “throat hit” that is common with regular cigarette smoking, the suit says.
The Surgeon General has issued a warning that the use of nicotine salts allows “particularly high levels of nicotine to be inhaled more easily and with less irritation” compared to regular cigarettes. This is especially concerning for young teens or adults because it “could make it easier for them to initiate the use of nicotine through these products and also could make it easier to progress to regular e-cigarette use and nicotine dependence,” the suit says.
Nicotine, the case says, is a carcinogen and with increased exposure causes an increased risk of coronary vascular disease and peripheral arterial disorders.
While using Juul, the suit says, the minor experienced worsening “bouts of anxiety, depression, and problems sleeping.” Additionally, he has sustained worsening “distractibility and restlessness issues.”
THE RISE OF JUUL Juul products hit the market in 2015. In no time, Juul became the leading manufacturer in the electronic cigarette market in the United States. Last year, Juul’s revenue exceeded $1 billion, “up 700% from 2017,” the suit says.
Many people find the product’s inherent design appealing, especially teens and young adults. Not only does the Juul device closely resemble a USB flash drive and can be re-charged in a laptop computer, their pods come in many appealing flavors. As if that wasn’t enough, the case says, Juul engaged in deceptive marketing practices that intentionally targeted minors, fueling the popularity of vaping devices among youth.
“Particularly alarming was the discovery that Juul Labs developed programs in which it paid schools to allow Juul Labs’ representatives access to students in class, and sponsored weekend programs and summer camps, with some students as young as third graders, under the guise of offering instruction on ‘holistic health education’ and other health related topics,” states the lawsuit.
The suit goes on to say that Juul Labs used this opportunity to tell students that vaping devices were safe.
“Emails between Juul Labs’ employees referred to the company’s sponsorship of, and involvement in, summer camps, youth programs, and school visitations as ‘eerily similar’ to tactics previously taken by ‘big tobacco’ companies that attended ‘fairs and carnivals where they distributed various branded items under the guise of ‘youth prevention,’” the case says.
VIOLATION OF MISSOURI MERCHANDISING PRACTICES ACT
As the lawsuit tells it, the practices that Juul Labs engaged in were in direct violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, which protects consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices.
The minor, the suit alleges, suffered economic harm when he purchased Juul products that he otherwise wouldn’t have had he known the truth. The family is seeking compensation in an amount that will serve to punish the electronic vaping company and prevent other people from engaging in similar conduct.
FIRST VAPING-RELATED DEATH IN MISSOURI
On Thursday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) announced the first death associated with vaping in Missouri. The man was in his mid-40s and had normal lung function prior to picking up the habit in May of 2019. He began to have difficulty breathing and other respiratory symptoms that landed him in the hospital on Aug. 22.
The DHSS say samples taken of the man’s lungs revealed it was a vaping-related lung injury.
“This is an unfortunate case of a young man with no prior lung illness who started vaping because of chronic pain issues,” said Dr. Michael Plisco, Mercy critical care pulmonologist and medical director of Mercy’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program. “He started out with shortness of breath and it rapidly progressed and deteriorated, developing into what is called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Once the lungs are injured by vaping, we don’t know how quickly it worsens and if it depends on other risk factors.”
His lungs were “unable to provide enough gas exchange, leading to heart failure and near cardiac arrest,” states a press release from the DHSS. To give the primary organ of the respiratory system and his heart a break, doctors placed him on venoarterial ECMO.
“Unfortunately, because ECMO doesn’t fix the problem and only buys time for healing, it didn’t work in this case,” Dr. Plisco said. “Due to the nature of this critical illness, acute respiratory distress syndrome ultimately led to his death.”
With nine deaths and hundreds of serious illnesses being tied to e-cigarettes, the CDC and DHSS say people should stop vaping for now.
“We are sad to report that this illness associated with vaping has now resulted in a death in Missouri and extend our condolences to his family,” said Dr. Randall Williams, DHSS director. “As previously stated, we encourage Missourians to follow the CDC guidance to refrain from using e-cigarette products if you are concerned about these specific health risks, especially while the investigation is ongoing.”
The DHSS now requires physicians to report vaping-related pulmonary illnesses to authorities. Since late August, Missouri physicians have treated about 22 people for possible vaping-associated illnesses. The DHSS confirmed in seven of these cases the pulmonary illness was associated with vaping. Nine reports remain under investigation.
The DHSS warns anyone using e-cigarettes who has symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, gastrointestinal issues and elevated heart rate to immediately seek medical attention.
“In addition, if someone uses e-cigarettes they shouldn’t buy products off the street (for example, e-cigarettes with THC or other cannabinoids),” say health officials. Anecdotal evidence indicates that some people use e-cigarettes to inhaleTetrahydrocannabinol, because it is easier to disguise the illegal substance from law enforcement. The DHSS advises people not to modify e-cigarette products.
Walmart announced in recent days it is no longer selling e-cigarettes. Other companies may begin to follow suit.
This comes as the FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced it is removing most flavored e-cigarettes from the market that lack premarket authorization and issued a proposed rule for premarket tobacco product applications (PMTAs).
“These important regulatory actions are part of our ongoing oversight of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products that is critical to our public health mission and, especially, to protecting kids from the dangers of nicotine addiction and tobacco-related disease and death,” states the press release.
President Donald Trump has also weighed in on non-tobacco products fueling the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.
“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”
According to recent data, more than a quarter of high school students have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. A large majority of the youth e-cigarette users “cited the use of popular fruit and menthol or mint flavors.”
In recent weeks, the FDA issued a formal warning letter to Juul Labs Inc for their part in fueling the epidemic of youth e-cigarette users. According to the FDA, Juul is largely to blame for “marketing unauthorized modified risk tobacco products by engaging in labeling, advertising, and/or other activities directed to consumers, including a presentation given to youth at a school.”
In a second letter issued to Juul Labs, the FDA requested additional information about Juul Labs outreach and marketing practices, specifically those targeted at students and health insurers.