Evidence presented in the first JUUL bellwether trial against Altria (nee Philip Morris) in the national JUUL multidistrict litigation reveals new and shocking details about Altria’s buy-in to the tobacco vaping giant
As reported by Law360, evidence unfolding in the first JUUL bellwether trial against Altria in the national JUUL MDL is shedding new light on the depths to which Altria and Juul conspired to hook a new generation of cigarette-savvy young people on vaping. Among other details, new evidence reveals the substantial profits reaped by Juul’s largest investor, Riaz Valani, who secured a $2.45 billion payoff for his $4.8 million investment after facilitating a JUUL buy-in deal with tobacco giant Altria.
The bellwether case, brought by Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel on behalf of the San Francisco Unified School District, accuses Altria of negligence, racketeering, and contributing to a public nuisance at San Francisco’s public schools, alleging that Juul products were knowingly, intentionally, and predatorily marketed to minors. Indeed, an email from Juul co-founder James Monsees to Valani expressly stated that their product aimed at “maintaining the youth market.”
Further testimony shows that Juul leveraged influencers to promote their launch party in 2015, targeting college students and even high-schoolers. Tabitha Wakefield, an attendee of the launch party, confirmed that many of the partygoers were in high school. The event featured vape product giveaways, and Wakefield herself left with an almost-unbelievable year and a half’s supply of Juul products.
Wakefield’s testimony highlighted the insidious nature of Juul’s marketing tactics, as she went on to note that 75% of her social group still uses Juul regularly. The product’s inherently inconspicuous nature (no flame required, no long-persisting smoke or smells) allows users to vape wherever they want, normalizing and promoting its insidious and dangerous use especially among young people.
As the bellwether trial against Altria progresses, details about top investors’ financial gains and specific marketing approaches aimed at young people are coming into public view for the frst time. This pivotal case aims to hold the companies producing and promoting tobacco vaping accountable for their disingenuous frauds and community harms, and seeks to pave the way for additional legal measures to curb and contain youth vaping. Indeed, the trial highlights the need for continued vigilance and advocacy to shield future generations from the true legacy of killer tobacco: the extreme negative consequences of targeted marketing and more than questionable business practices aimed at our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable by the e-cigarette industry.
The full article is available on Law360’s website (subscription required).