Suit seeks to force JUUL to “forfeit its ill-gotten profits,” while warning stores not to sell to children.
Bucks County has joined Montgomery County and several local school districts in suing JUUL and Eonsmoke, two manufacturers of vaping products that the county and school officials say are damaging the health and well-being of children and teens.
Bucks District Attorney Matthew Weintraub filed the suit Wednesday against JUUL Labs of San Francisco, Eonsmoke of Clinton, New Jersey, and the owners of two local mini-marts where minors allegedly were allowed to buy vaping products: Gulf Mart in Quakertown and Lehal Associations Inc., doing business as Delta Gas in Warminster.
He was joined at a news conference at the Bucks County Justice Center in Doylestown by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele and representatives from the Bensalem, Quakertown and Central Bucks school districts which, along with the Neshaminy School District, have passed resolutions to begin suits against JUUL and other parties involved in the sale of vaping products to minors.
“Bucks County is, tragically, among the leaders when it comes to student vaping,” Weintraub said. “For example, while statewide, 25% of high school students surveyed say they have vaped, in Bucks County, that number is greater than 37%.”
He called that figure “unacceptable.”
Weintraub’s suit alleges that JUUL “developed a nicotine-delivery product even more addictive than traditional cigarettes and launched a “massive online and social media advertising campaign “designed to fulfill powerful psychological needs like popularity, peer acceptance and a positive self image.”
Central Bucks High School West nurse Carol Klein, who joined the news conference, said she’s had to send students to the hospital for soaring blood pressure and heart rates, and seizures.
She said one pod of a vaping product equals a pack of cigarettes, and some students are using multiple pods each day. “They don’t believe it’s a danger,” she said. “We’re using emergency rooms and 911 more than we ever have before.”
The nurse said that some students have realized how addicted to vaping they’ve become and have come to her for help in quitting, but it’s really hard for them to do so.
Weintraub said the issue really hit him when he went to speak at a Central Bucks forum on marijuana use and found a used vaping pod in the men’s room at a school.
He cited statistics showing that more than 1,000 lung injuries related to vaping have been reported, with 26 people dying, including one in Pennsylvania.
The suit alleges that “because JUUL’s nicotine sales increase the rate and magnitude of blood plasma nicotine compared to cigarettes, the risk of nicotine addiction and abuse is higher for JUUL e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes.”
Weintraub filed the suit through the law firm of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett and Bendesky of Horsham which also is representing Steele and has experience with these types of suits. Attorney Patrick Howard represented the firm at the news conference.
Steele filed his suit in November concerned that vaping causes damage to the brain as well as the lungs and that teenagers who vape are in danger of substance abuse, depression and anxiety. He said the addictive nature of vaping can have long-term effects on the developing brains of children and adolescents.
In a press announcement accompanying the suit, Weintraub said the attorneys representing the county “will only receive compensation if the litigation is successful and those proceeds will come from the defendants, not the taxpayers.”
Asked what compensation he’s seeking for the county, Weintraub said funds to cover health care services and programs for those harmed by the use of vaping products, to combat the use of vaping products, to study their short- and long-term effects, and to help law enforcement with the costs of conducting investigations and prosecutions of those who break laws related to vaping.
The school districts also are seeking related damages for the costs they’ve sustained since vaping has become such a distraction in the schools, they said.
In its resolution to file suit, the Bensalem School District said that JUUL is targeting teenagers and students as young as age eight.
Superintendent Lee said that educators are spending too much time dealing with the issues associated with vaping when they need to put their time into educating students and students need to focus on their school work, sports and social activities in school, not on vaping. “Our kids are being taken advantage of,” he said.
Requests for comment from JUUL Labs Inc., Eonsmoke, Gulf Mart and Lehal Associates were not returned Wednesday afternoon.
In response to other lawsuits, including the one filed by Quakertown, JUUL Labs representatives have said “we never designed our marketing to appeal to youth and do not want any non-nicotine users to try our products as they exist to help adult smokers find an alternative to combustible cigarettes.
“We need to urgently address underage use of vapor products and earn the trust of regulators, policy makers and other stakeholders. That is why we are focusing on taking aggressive actions to reduce youth usage of our products, working through the FDA’s PMTA process and supporting and complying with FDA’s final guidance on flavored products once effective.”