Lawsuit includes allegations that JUUL and Altria deliberately and expressly sought to develop and market the blockbuster sequel to combustible cigarettes, the “Most Successful Consumer Product of All Time”
September 15, 2020, Denver, Colorado—(BUSINESSWIRE)—Lieff Cabraser announces that it has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Colorado against JUUL and Altria on behalf of the Boulder Valley School District for violations of Colorado law and of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) as well as negligence and nuisance laws relating to the companies’ creation and youth-targeted marketing of a new nicotine delivery product to maximize profits through addiction.
The complaint in the lawsuit alleges that JUUL and Altria designed electronic cigarette products to create and sustain addiction, particularly among young people, and coupled those dangerous products with youth-targeted marketing programs intended to create an entire new generation of nicotine-addicted customers. The complaint further alleges that the companies’ work successfully caused more young people to start using e-cigarettes, creating a youth e-cigarette epidemic and public health crisis, and that the companies thrived due to extensive and successful efforts to delay meaningful regulation of their products.
“I have been disheartened to see students in the Boulder Valley School District and across our state targeted by these companies, especially knowing that they’re using the’ same deceptive advertising practices employed by tobacco companies for years. We, unfortunately, have been watching history repeat itself and Juul has been using the same playbook,” said BVSD Superintendent Dr. Rob Anderson. “Our campuses have been littered with the Juul pods and we have had students as young as fourth and fifth grade who have been treated for nicotine addiction related to vaping. This is not okay and we intend to do everything in our power to hold them accountable for the impact it has had on our students.”
“This is a horror sequel that never should have been made,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Kenneth Byrd, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “I’ve spent most of my career successfully fighting the tobacco companies for their insidious and lethal practices, and a resurgence of their poison-vending with a renewed focus on children was something we thought our efforts through the 1990s and 2000s would prevent.”
Detailed allegations in the complaint note that JUUL and Altria created highly addictive e-cigarettes that were easy for young people and non-smokers to inhale, based on experiments that measured non-smokers’ “buzz” levels and perceptions of throat harshness; that JUUL’s e-cigarettes deliver substantially higher doses of nicotine that cigarettes; that JUUL and Altria knew the JUUL products were unnecessarily addictive because they delivered more nicotine than smokers needed or wanted; that JUUL’s design deliberately avoided the look and feel of a cigarette, making it attractive to non-smokers and easy for young people to use without detection; and that JUUL and Altria enticed newcomers to nicotine with kid-friendly flavors and without insuring the flavoring additives were safe for inhalation.
Coupled with a marketing scheme designed to mislead the public, including youth, into believing JUUL products contained less nicotine than they actually do and were healthy and safe, JUUL and Altria successfully sowed the seeds of a new public health crisis with a particularly insidious focus on youthful e-smokers.
“Our schools are on the front lines of the vaping catastrophe,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Mark P. Chalos, who also represents the school district. “The vaping industry endangers our children and puts them at increased risk of lifelong addiction and potentially fatal illnesses. Now, with the added risk of COVID-19, these lawsuits are increasingly necessary to protect our children from the wrongdoers in the vaping industry.”
As the complaint outlines,
One of JLI’s “key needs” was the need to “own the ‘cool kid’ equity.” JUUL products were designed to appear slick and high-tech like a cool gadget, including video-game-like features like “party mode.” JLI offered kid-friendly flavors like mango and cool mint, and partnered with Altria to create and preserve the market for mint-flavored products—all because Defendants knew that flavors get young people hooked. Under the guise of youth smoking prevention, JLI sent representatives directly to schools to study teenager e-cigarette preferences.
JLI, the Management Defendants and Altria engaged in a campaign of deceit, through sophisticated mass media and social media communications, advertisements and otherwise, about the purpose and dangers of JUUL products. JUUL products’ packaging and advertising grossly understates the nicotine content in its products. Advertising campaigns featured JUUL paired with food and coffee, positioning JUUL as part of a healthy meal, a normal part of a daily routine, and as safe as caffeine. In partnership with Altria, JLI adopted a “Make the Switch” campaign to mislead the public into thinking that JLI products were benign smoking cessation devices, even though JUUL was never designed to break addictions. JLI, the Management Defendants, and Altria also concealed the results of studies that revealed that JUUL products were far more powerfully addictive than was disclosed.
In addition to the RICO claims, the lawsuit includes causes of action for negligence, negligence per se, and violations of Colorado public nuisance law. The suit seeks orders enjoining the defendants from engaging in further actions violating the law, actual, compensatory, and statutory damages, and equitable relief to fund prevention education and addiction treatment.
Mark P. Chalos
Kenneth S. Byrd
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP