Kentucky

University of Kentucky graduate sues Juul, saying it addicted users to nicotine

A Lexington man has filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs accusing the company of deceptive sales, marketing and advertising of its e-cigarettes to mislead buyers on nicotine content.

His attorneys asked the court to certify the complaint as a class-action suit on behalf of other “similarly situated” Kentucky consumers, including minors. If the court approves, his attorneys will be able to represent that group.

“This case is without merit and we will defend our mission,” Juul said in a release to the Herald-Leader. “JUUL Labs is committed to eliminating combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world.”

The lawsuit was filed in the midst of an investigation into a multistate outbreak of hundreds of lung injuries and illnesses — 16 percent of cases are consumers under 18 — tied to e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While the investigation so far hasn’t identified a specific product, including liquids or devices, linked to all cases, most patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, a compound in marijuana.

John McFaull, 25, was born and raised in northern Kentucky, attended Beechwood High School and now lives in Lexington after graduating from the University of Kentucky, according to the lawsuit.

McFaull used dip tobacco in 2018, and started using Juul pods in an effort to “reduce his nicotine intake,” according to the lawsuit. He had seen advertising for the product, but he did not realize the actual amount of nicotine that the pods contained.

Rather than weaning him off of nicotine, the Juul pods made McFaull more addicted, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Juul only recently added a label to its products that warns of the addictive nature of nicotine, and a small print notice that the products are intended to be “The Alternative for Adult Smokers.” Earlier in September, the FDA issued the company a warning saying its advertising, labeling or other actions could lead consumers to believe the product was less harmful than other tobacco products.

The lawsuit said, “The recent exterior packaging changes are an admission of the inadequacy of previous labels, but they are too little, too late, and are completely insufficient to warn Juul users of the real dangers of this product.”

Juul said in Thursday’s statement that their product was never intended as a way to stop consuming nicotine.

“The JUUL system is designed to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes to an alternative nicotine delivery system and is not intended to be used as a nicotine cessation product, or for the treatment of nicotine addiction or dependence,” the company said. “Switching is not another word for cessation. They mean two very different things.”

The “Kentucky Class” of people affected by Juul products is “so numerous” that the exact number cannot be accurately determined until the attorneys get evidence through discovery, according to the lawsuit. The attorneys filing the suit believe there are thousands that could be part of the group.

The lawsuit also names Pax Labs, which developed the Juul e-cigarette, as a defendant.

The lawsuit accuses the company of aiming its marketing at young people with a focus on social media, and advertising that aligns Juul’s products with “social inclusion, sexual attractiveness, thinness, popularity, rebelliousness, and being ‘cool’.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the company created e-cigarettes that appeal to youth, because of their colorful designs and flavors, as well as the fact that they are more discreet and easy to hide at home and school than “traditional” cigarettes.

“Although marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, Defendants’ Juul e-cigarettes and Juul pods still deliver dangerous toxins and carcinogens to teenage users,” the lawsuit alleges. “Nicotine itself is a carcinogen, as well as a toxic chemical associated with cardiovascular, reproductive and immunosuppressive problems.”

Users can get about 200 puffs out of every Juul pod, which amounts to the nicotine intake of about a pack of cigarettes, according to the lawsuit.

“If a teen consumes one pod a week, in five weeks it is equivalent to about 100 cigarettes (5 packs of cigarettes),” the lawsuit states. “This makes the teen equivalent to an established smoker.”

Juul has released multiple statements saying that it does not support underage use of their products and that it never aimed marketing to minors. The company has also said that it supports legislation at the state and federal levels that would require buyers of vaping products to be 21 years old or older.

“Our product has always only been intended to be a viable alternative for the one billion current adult smokers in the world,” Juul told the Herald-Leader. “We have never marketed to youth and do not want any non-nicotine users to try our products.”

The company said they have also launched an “action plan” to combat underage use of vaping products.

In all, the lawsuit accuses Juul of violating the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act, fraud, “unjust enrichment”, failure to warn of potential risks, breach of implied warranty, breach of express warranty, negligence and “public nuisance.”

The 40-page lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the federal court’s Eastern District of Kentucky and a response from JUUL has not yet been filed.

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