Politics & Government

North Carolina sues e-cig company JUUL over rise in teen vaping

What is the Juul e-cigarette?

The Botany Bay demonstrates what the Juul e-cigarette is and why it has recently become so popular.
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The Botany Bay demonstrates what the Juul e-cigarette is and why it has recently become so popular.

North Carolina is suing JUUL, the nation’s biggest e-cigarette company, over allegations that it marketed its products to minors and also lied to consumers of all ages about safety.

The lawsuit seeks to ban most e-cig flavors from being sold in North Carolina, among other restrictions.

Vaping has exploded in popularity recently. And JUUL has more than 75 percent of the multibillion-dollar market, according to the lawsuit — which Attorney General Josh Stein’s office said is the first of its kind in the nation.

“JUUL targeted young people as customers,” Stein, a Democrat, said in a news release Wednesday. “As a result, vaping has become an epidemic among minors. JUUL’s business practices are not only reckless, they’re illegal. And I intend to put a stop to them.”

Studies show that one in every 20 North Carolina middle school students has vaped in the past month, according to the lawsuit. The number is one in every six high school students in the state.

Tobacco use in general has increased after the introduction of e-cigarettes, the lawsuit says, reversing years of declining usage following a large lawsuit against tobacco companies that contained similar allegations of marketing to young people.

“We cannot allow another generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine,” Stein said.

The lawsuit says that even though JUUL claims that it doesn’t market vaping to kids, the rising prevalence of vaping among minors “is no accident.”

“JUUL’s popularity among teens is the predictable result of JUUL’s youth-focused business strategy,” the lawsuit says. “In developing its e-cigarette products, JUUL deliberately designed the flavors, the look, and even the chemical composition of the e-cigarettes to appeal to youthful audiences, including minors.”

The lawsuit claims that in addition to pushing youth-oriented flavors, such as fruits, in its e-cigarettes, JUUL also “has used models who look like teenagers or very young adults, and has sought out and paid youth-oriented sponsors and ‘influencers’ popular among teenagers to spread the popularity of JUUL’s youth-focused brand identity among the young.”

Stein is requesting that state courts ban JUUL from selling any flavors in North Carolina other than menthol or regular tobacco. It also asks the courts to severely restrict how and where JUUL is allowed to advertise in North Carolina, and would force JUUL to pay the state, in addition to other requests.

The Washington Post reported that the advertising restrictions Stein is seeking are similar to the ones applied to regular cigarette companies 20 years ago, after the massive nationwide anti-tobacco lawsuit.

But JUUL, the Post reported, defended itself, with a spokesman telling the paper that “we share the Attorney General’s concerns about youth vaping, which is why we have been cooperating with his office and why we have taken the most aggressive actions of anyone in the industry to combat youth usage.”

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Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, with a focus on state employees and agencies. In 2016 he started The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local governments around the Triangle. Contact him at wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.
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