As reported by Law360, disturbing new details are emerging via evidence presented in the ongoing JUUL multidistrict injury and predatory/fraudulent advertising litigation against Altria (formerly Philip Morris) about the extent to which Altria and Juul allegedly conspired to further hook a new generation of young people on the nicotine in vaping products. According to a recorded deposition, Altria CEO Billy Gifford admitted that use of Juul e-cigarettes by American youth increased after Altria invested in the startup.
Lieff Cabraser partner Sarah London, part of the trial team for plaintiff the San Francisco unified school district, also questioned Juul CEO K.C. Crosthwaite, a former top executive at Altria, about his role in overseeing the investment. Crosthwaite denied that Altria had any control over Juul, claiming it was only a “minority shareholder.” However, a preponderance of evidence suggests that Altria’s investment was instrumental in Juul’s rapid growth and the subsequent widening of the country’s youth vaping epidemic.
A bombshell internal Altria email revealed the company’s belief that Juul would survive controversy and become a “tremendous success,” having “cracked the code in duplicating cigarette smoking.” Additionally, a February 2019 Altria memo celebrated Juul’s largest sales week in history, which coincided with a spike in youth use of the highly addictive e-cigarettes.
Despite Juul’s agreement to pay $255 million in December 2022 to settle the majority of claims against it in the multidistrict injury and fraud litigation, Altria declined to settle, and remains as the sole defendant in the continuing high-profile litigation. The ongoing trial accuses Altria of, among other charges, negligence, racketeering, and contributing to a public nuisance across the wide breadth of San Francisco’s public schools. As the proceedings unfold, additional unsettling revelations continue to emerge, exposing what plaintiffs’ allege is the companies’ ongoing pursuit of maximized profits via fueling addiction in the country’s youngest and most vulnerable populations.
The full article is available on Law360’s website (subscription required).
Learn more about Lieff Cabraser’s multidistrict federal vaping fraud and teen injury litigation against Juul on behalf of schools, native tribes, and various governmental entities.