Litigation Moves Forward in Juul Vaping Device Claims

Vaping device maker Juul Labs, Inc. has asked a federal judge to choose two school districts to participate in a bellwether trial that will address claims Juul misrepresented its vaping devices as a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on March 22, 2022

Litigation Moves Forward in Juul Vaping Device Claims

The case is not the first one Juul has faced regarding underage vaping. In July 2021, Juul announced a $40 million settlement with North Carolina. The settlement occurred after the North Carolina attorney general sued Juul. The attorney general alleged that the company engaged in deceptive marketing practices aimed at minors.

Status of the Juul MDL Bellwether Claims Against Juul

The case, In re: Juul Labs Inc. Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Government agencies are among the first to participate in these bellwether trials. School districts make up the bulk of the agencies currently represented, according to Juul Labs.

Juul Labs, Inc. recently argued that school districts should be allowed to bring their claims first. The company claimed addressing school districts’ claims would have the greatest impact on the other government agencies’ claims. To this end, Juul Labs recently asked the court to choose two school districts to start the process.

Juul Labs argued that a Tucson, Arizona school district should be first. The district’s smaller population size makes it a promising choice as a representative district, according to Juul. Juul Labs also addressed the nomination of another school district, Kansas’ Unified School District 265. Juul Labs stated that the Kansas district should go second or third because it’s the only district not located in a metropolitan area.

Other school districts under consideration for early bellwether trials are in San Francisco, California, and in Palm Beach, Florida.

Allegations Raised in the MDL Claims

Currently, Juul faces allegations that it misrepresented the safety of its vaping devices. Allegedly, Juul presented the devices as a safe alternative to smoking as a means of nicotine consumption. Juul also faces claims that it designed its vaping products to contain more nicotine than cigarettes. Additionally, the company faces allegations that it made false statements about nicotine on its packaging.

The claims against Juul Labs all stem from a sharp rise in the use of nicotine vaping devices by minors. Allegedly, Juul Labs portrayed vaping devices as safer than cigarettes. By aiming its marketing at young people, Juul Labs allegedly encouraged teens and children to try the devices under the belief that they were doing something less dangerous than smoking tobacco.

Juul has been dealing with these claims in federal court for some time. In early 2022, the company lost a bid to dismiss the bellwether claims of two federal tribes. The two tribes were the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Juul did, however, manage to have some plaintiffs removed from the case in late 2021. The company was able to do this after demonstrating these plaintiffs’ submitted fact sheets were not substantially complete.

Juul Labs part-owner Altria also sought to be released from the lawsuit. Altria claimed that despite its part ownership of Juul, Altria played no active role in Juul’s marketing campaign. The court determined that Altria, having profited from Juul’s alleged behavior, was sufficiently connected to the MDL. As such, Altria is still a defendant. The court also found that the plaintiffs had provided a sufficient basis for early allegations that Juul and Altria violated certain provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

What to Expect as the Juul MDL Claims Proceed

The claims against Juul come from a number of school districts, government agencies, and federally recognized tribes. What they have in common are the allegations that Juul Labs, Inc. misrepresented the safety of vaping in various ways, in marketing aimed at younger people, in a way that resulted in a sharp increase in vaping among teenagers.

Specific allegations include claims regarding various health problems connected to vaping. Minor plaintiffs, for example, have claimed that vaping addiction caused mental health and cognitive problems, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

As these claims proceed, the parties and courts will likely continue to look for ways to streamline the process of addressing the various allegations and exploring Juul’s role with regard to them. Experts in the construction and operation of vaping devices, the effects of nicotine consumption on physical and mental health in teens, and the effects of marketing are all likely to play roles at various points in the litigation.

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