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A class action lawsuit has been filed over JUUL electronic cigarettes, alleging that the manufacturers have violated racketeering laws, usually reserved for taking down organized crime, by illegally marketing their products to children.
The complaint (PDF) was filed earlier this week in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida by the parents of a minor child who developed a JUUL vaping addiction, seeking class action status against JUUL Labs, Inc., Altria Group, Inc. and Philip Morris USA, Inc. as defendants.
Erin and Jared Nessmith indicate that their daughter, identified only with the initials A.N., began vaping with JUUL pens when she was 15. The child became addicted to JUUL products, particularly its mango flavor, which she did not realize contained nicotine when she started vaping, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also notes that the child has unintentionally swallowed the e-liquid contained in the devices at times, exposing her to significantly toxic substances.
The parents claim that they did not realize that their child was developing a vaping habit, since JUUL intentionally disguised the devices as USB drives to help teens hide their use of nicotine from their parents.
The lawsuit indicates that JUUL Labs intentionally duplicated earlier, much denounced, tactics used by the tobacco industry throughout the years to get children addicted to nicotine. They also claim the defendants intentionally hid the negative effects of their products and developed as many work-arounds as possible to sidestep laws outlawing the sale of tobacco products to minors.
“JUUL’s research included documents about how tobacco companies had chemically manipulated nicotine content to maximize delivery,” the Nessmith’s lawsuit states. “JUUL also used tobacco industry advertisements – which were created to lure nonsmoking youth – as a guide to JUUL’s own advertising campaigns.”
The lawsuit includes a claim that the defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which are charges generally leveled against organized crime and the mafia. The defendants functioned as a criminal enterprise to illegally market adult restricted products to children, according to the claim.
A recent study indicated that e-cigarette advertising reaches 80% of middle and high school students in the U.S. Furthermore, vaping during adolescence quadruples a teen’s risk of becoming a cigarette tobacco smoker later.
JUUL vape pens have quickly grown to dominate the electronic cigarette market. In addition to the sale of candy-like flavors, the devices are designed to look like USB thumb drives, allowing teens to hide their vaping habit from parents, teachers and other adults.
In February, the American Lung Association gave the FDA a failing grade for not doing enough to prevent teens from using and buying e-cigarettes. Vaping is now the most popular form of tobacco youth among U.S. teens, with rates of teen use jumping by 78% from 2017 to 2018 alone.
In 2011, when the FDA first said it would regulate e-cigarettes, only 1.5 percent of teens vaped, but now more than one-third of teens use e-cigarettes.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics also called on the federal government to implement more stringent vaping laws across the country, and not wait another year to act.
This latest complaint joins a growing number of JUUL vaping addiction lawsuits filed by families of teens who suffered health problems, including heart attacks, pneumonia and other conditions.