Indianapolis Public Schools latest to join lawsuit against Juul for targeting teens

·3 min read

Indianapolis Public Schools is the latest Indiana public school district to join a lawsuit against the makers of JUUL vape products, one of the most popular e-cigarette brands accused of fueling what health officials have called a new “epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.”

Earlier this month, IPS joined hundreds of schools across the country and 10 others in Indiana that have signed on to the massive tort case, alleging that JUUL Labs Inc. targeted teens in the marketing of their products and harming the schools that educate those young people in the process.

According to the complaint, the percentage of high school seniors who reported using nicotine nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018. By 2019, more than 5 million middle and high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes, including more than 25% of high schoolers.

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The 2018 Indiana Youth Tobacco Survey found that more than one-third of Indiana high school students had used a JUUL product.

“The impact of e-cigarettes on student health and wellness is devastating and we, as the state’s largest school corporation, must pursue every opportunity to enhance the lives of our students and increase the likelihood of success within our schools and continued success post-IPS,” Indianapolis Public Schools said in as statement to IndyStar.

The suit alleges that JUUL took pages from earlier tobacco industry playbooks, targeting youth with slick advertising and maximizing addiction through efficient nicotine delivery. They hired young models and advertised using bright, “fun” themes, the complaint alleges, and marketed flavors like mango, mint and crème brulee. JUUL stopped selling non-menthol-based flavors in 2019.

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“The devastation and damage that JUUL has created, with teen-targeted advertising and marketing, and youth-focused products, has created a huge problem for many schools” said Jon Kieffer, partner at Wagstaff & Cartmell and lawyer representing many schools in the case. “JUUL has deliberately designed a product that attracts kids and then hooks them.”

IPS is one of nearly a dozen Indiana districts that have joined the suit so far. The others are: Carmel Clay Schools, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, South Bend Community School Corporation, School City of East Chicago, Griffith Public Schools, School City of Mishawaka, Elkhart Community Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Monroe County Community Schools and Evansville Community School District.

“One of the guiding principles at Carmel Clay Schools is that students are at the center of every decision,” said Michael J. Kerschner, member of the Carmel schools board. “JUUL, to the detriment of our students, has been marketing directly to teens to get them addicted to their product. This litigation is taking a stand against JUUL and other manufacturers.”

JUUL did not comment on the lawsuit, but has tried to position itself as a provider of safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes for adult smokers. In recent statements, the company has said that it supports efforts to curb underage tobacco use and has settled several lawsuits in other states alleging they illegally targeted young people in their marketing.

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“Over the past several years, we reset our company because while millions of adult smokers have converted to our products from cigarettes, we will only be trusted to provide alternatives to adult smokers if we continue to combat underage use, respect the central role of our regulator and build on our shared commitment to science and evidence,” said Joe Murillo, chief regulatory officer at JUUL, in a statement posted to the company’s website last month in response to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

The case is working its way through federal court in California, where JUUL is based. Trials in the case could begin early next year.

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Vaping and kids: IPS joins lawsuit against Juul for targeting teens

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