Juul infographic

E-cigarette users are more likely to be infected with COVID-19, which is raising some concerns over increased nicotine use and lung damage since e-cigarettes have exploded in popularity among teens and young adults over the past several years.

That’s why school districts across America, including Montrose County School District, have filed suit against e-cigarette giant Juul Labs, Inc. for marketing advertisements toward youth. Juul Labs is the maker of the controversial and top-selling U.S. Juul electronic cigarette.

MCSD’s board of education made the decision to join the litigation suit in July and since then, 12 other Colorado school districts have also joined. Nationwide over 400 school districts are taking aim at Juul Labs, Inc., with the majority of the clients under the representation of Frantz Law Group, APLC in California.

During the Nov. 10 school board meeting, Superintendent Carrie Stephenson provided the board with an update on the litigation.

“The Juul litigation is moving forward,” she said. “Evidently the Juul company filed a request to dismiss the case, which was denied.”

The litigation is moving forward with the defense and plaintiff currently in the discovery phase. MCSD received a list of further information the plaintiff, representing Juul Labs, Inc., would like for its case.

The district, along with others involved in the case, are being asked to supply the defense with additional information about the district, such as school sizes, student population, actions by the district to address vaping, tobacco, alcohol and drug issues on its campuses and the number of students using those products to determine the harm caused to the district.

William Shinoff, an attorney with the Frantz Law Group, APLC, who is representing several plaintiffs in the litigation said the defendant’s brought filed motions in the case.

“Juul, Altria, which was Philip Morris who is a main defendant, and a couple of the other vaping manufacturers who are defendants in this case … they all brought motions to dismiss against the school districts’ cases,” Shinoff said.

Shinoff is MCSD’s representative in the case.

Altria, a top tobacco company in America that was formerly known as Philip Morris, is a part of the ongoing litigation since Juul is one of its subsidiaries.

The defendants made claims that the school districts don’t have a right to bring these cases before the court because the districts have suffered no harm from the vaping products. Oral arguments were heard on the motion before the judge ruled that the alleged harm the plaintiff is claiming is foreseeable based on the accusations against the company’s targeted marketing toward children. Following that ruling, the litigation will proceed through the discovery phase ahead of a federal trial, which is set to begin in early 2022.

“In reality, that’s a pretty quick turnaround in a large case like this,” Shinoff said. “If you look at the tobacco litigation that occurred, that was a long, drawn out litigation, so to me, the beginning of 2022 is a very positive thing because it puts this on an expedited track.”

Juul Labs, Inc. offered the following statement in regards to the ongoing litigation against the company:

“We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, legislators, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.

“As part of that process, the company reduced its product portfolio, halted television, print, and digital product advertising and submitted a Premarket Tobacco Product Application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including comprehensive scientific evidence to support the harm reduction potential of its products and data-driven measures to address underage use. Our customer base is the world’s one billion adult smokers. We will respond to the allegations through the appropriate legal channels,” a Juul company spokesman said.

While Juul Labs, Inc. is taking steps to combat underage use of its products and shifting its advertising, Shinoff said harm has already occurred.

“Trying to fix something after the fact doesn’t fix the harm that’s already been created by their actions,” he said. “I’m glad to hear that they are trying to make changes now to their practices, but that doesn’t fix what they’ve already done.”

Shinoff noted how the company’s previous actions have resulted in youths being addicted to those products.

“There’s no rhyme or reason why certain districts have higher numbers,” Shinoff said. “Sometimes you would look at — ethnicity or if there were more wealthy or non-wealthy — those types of factors to see why are numbers so high, but it really isn’t. It’s across the spectrum and the way they marketed their product that it hit everyone.”

In a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers assessed whether youth cigarette and e-cigarette use were associated with COVID-19 symptoms, testing and diagnosis. A survey of 4,351 adolescents and young adults aged 13 to 24 showed e-cigarette users were five times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 and both cigarette and e-cigarette users were almost seven times more likely to be infected among people who used these products within the past 30 days.

Adolescents and young adults have been the target of marketing for vaping products that present a significant risk factor for the novel coronavirus.

So as the litigation continues and Juul and Altria shift its marketing strategies on those products, it’s important to follow the advice Altria shared in a press release on underage tobacco use, “Kids should not smoke, vape or use any tobacco products.”

Lauren Brant is a staff writer and digital content coordinator for the Montrose Daily Press.

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