The Montrose County School District heard from a California law firm filing a class action lawsuit, on behalf of school districts across America, against Juul Labs, a top manufacturer of vaping products Tuesday. Following a lengthy discussion, the school board gave a consensus for Superintendent Stephen Schiell to continue conversations with the law group. The board will take action on the item at the June board meeting.
Juul Labs, Inc., the maker of the JUUL e-cigarette, is identified as a major cause of the epidemic that the Center for Disease Control notes has caused youth use of e-cigarettes to skyrocket.
William Shinoff, an attorney with the Frantz Law Group, APLC in California, addressed the board about the litigation against Juul. Shinoff currently represents around 80 school districts across the country. Shinoff said Colorado has taken the steps to figure out what’s going on with youth’s use of vaping products.
“Your state has the highest numbers in the country for vaping, especially communities like yours they’re showing the numbers to be among the highest in the state,” he said.
The federal government began investigating Juul Labs, Inc. and the spike in vaping among young adults.
“What we’ve found through this federal investigation is that this company went ahead and did what big tobacco did 20 years ago and marketed their product directly to minors,” Shinoff said. “When they did this marketing, they failed to warn of the harms of their products.”
A vape tank, also referred to as the cartridge or pod is where the e-juice flavor is stored before it becomes vaporized by the atomizer.
“Their product contains 10 times the amount of nicotine that’s in a cigarette,” he said. “It’s highly, highly addictive.”
On behalf of school districts, FLG is filing lawsuits against Juul under the legal theory of public nuisance, they show the presence of the products on campuses, the issues associated with that and the need for resources to address it. One way to reduce vaping on school grounds is by installing vape detectors in the bathrooms. The detectors average about $5,000 a bathroom.
“That is a lot of the time where vaping is going on because detectors right now (vape pens) don’t set off a normal smoke detector,” Shinoff said.
In addition to fighting for funding for vape detectors, Shinoff said they are also fighting to provide districts with funding for educational programs related to harms of vaping and signs. The firm has put together a panel to begin educational programs in the districts with no cost to the district.
The district will work with the attorneys to provide information they need about the impact of Juul products in the district. There is also no financial harm to the district for participating. The district is not obligated to pay the firm unless they are successful in collecting a monetary recovery on the district’s behalf.
Within the board packet information about the litigation is information about the impact Juul had on youth’s use over the last several years.
“The skyrocketing growth of young people’s e-cigarette use over the past year threatens to erase progress made in reducing tobacco use,” CDC director Robert Redfield said. “It’s putting a new generation at risk for nicotine addiction.”
Since Juul released e-cigarettes in 2015, the company has increased its market share to over 70% and has generated over $224 million in retail sales, a 621% year over year increase. By June 2018, sales skyrocketed to $942.6 million, a 783% increase.
Prior to Juul entering the market, e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students increased 900% between 2011 and 2015. Between 2017 and 2018, high schoolers use of e-cigarettes increased 78% from 11.7% in 2017 to 20.8% of high schoolers in 2018.
While Juul is not the only company marketing vaping products, Shinoff said they are the big fish since they control 84% of the market and are worth $32 billion. Other companies are also being investigated.
“This case is not only about money, there’s also a social justice aspect to this case,” Shinoff said. “We are going to be seeking an injunction against Juul to ban them from being able to sell the flavored pods because we know that’s what caused the major issue with teens.”
They are also seeking an injunction against the company’s marketing practices.
Results from a 2017 study showed Montrose County youth reported trying or using e-cigarettes at the highest rates across Colorado.