California is suing Juul for allegedly targeting minors

Christine Fisher
Contributing Writer
property of Naveen Asaithambi via Getty Images

California is suing e-cigarette maker Juul. The lawsuit alleges that Juul targeted underage Californians with its marketing and sales practices, failed to warn consumers of their exposure to chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects, failed to properly verify the age of its customers and violated the privacy rights of minors by retaining their email addresses even when they failed age verification. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey and the County of Los Angeles announced the lawsuit today.

Becerra said the lawsuit comes after a 21-month investigation into Juul and its marketing and sales practices. In a press event, Becerra noted that the number of high school students vaping in 2019 is 27.5 percent, up from 11.7 percent in 2017. Becerra blames that, in part, on vaping products sold in "child-friendly fruity flavors," like those previously sold by Juul.

In a statement provided to Engadget, Juul spokesperson Austin Finan said:

"While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes."

Just a couple months ago, the FDA accused Juul of telling students that its vaping products are "totally safe" and "99% safer than cigarettes." The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the House and Senate have all launched their own investigations into Juul's teen marketing tactics. The Trump Administration has discussed banning flavored e-cig products and/or raising the minimum vaping age.

In response to teen vaping concerns, Juul has launched a track-and-trace program, and beginning next year, it will require retailers to scan customers' IDs. It has also stopped selling fruit and mint-flavored vape products.

As if this were not bad enough for Juul, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed more 2,000 cases of vaping-related lung injury. The CDC has determined that vitamin E acetate is a "potential toxin of concern" but the cause of the illness is still a mystery. Juul has also been accused of shipping contaminated products, though the company denies those claims.

You can read Juul's full statement below:

"While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes. As part of that process, we recently stopped accepting orders for our Mint JUULpods in the U.S., suspended all broadcast, print, and digital product advertising in the U.S. and are investing in scientific research to ensure the quality of our FDA Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) application and expanding our commitment to develop new technology to reduce youth use. Our customer base is the world's 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users."