King County Executive Dow Constantine today announced that King County has filed a lawsuit against the e-cigarette company JUUL Labs, Inc. and Altria Group, INC. for creating and sustaining the youth vaping epidemic.
In a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Seattle, King County will hold JUUL accountable for deliberately using advertising and product design to target youth with addictive nicotine.
King County is joining a growing number of schools and communities taking action against JUUL for its marketing practices. The County's complaint alleges that these marketing practices were deceptive and specifically targeted to youth, likely contributing to the dramatic increase in vaping rates and addiction among young people in King County.
King County youth are vaping at an all-time high and rates continue to climb. One in every four King County high school seniors vaped in the past 30 days and vaping has led to severe lung illness among young people locally and across the country.
As of October 16, 2019, Public Health – Seattle & King County has identified three additional confirmed cases and one probable case of severe lung disease associated with vaping in King County. This brings the total number of cases in King County to five confirmed and one probable since the first King County patient was identified with vaping-related lung illness on September 20, 2019.
“As we allege in the complaint, it is clear that JUUL, like Big Tobacco before it, targeted youth to hook a whole new generation on candy-flavored nicotine,” said Executive Dow Constantine. “JUUL was well aware that their products would appeal to youth—driving an ever-increasing epidemic of nicotine addiction and severe lung illness. The taxpayers of King County must not be stuck with the tab for a public health crisis that has lined the pockets of JUUL and their shareholders.”
Among many other misleading practices, Altria and JUUL allegedly exploited grey areas in tobacco law to specifically reach youth such as providing free samples of nicotine vape cartridges. Altria, less than two months after criticizing JUUL's conduct in a letter to the FDA, made a nearly $13 billion investment in the company.
King County's complaint alleges that Altria is working to maintain and expand JUUL's market share despite knowing it is based on epidemic levels of youth vaping.
Public Health Seattle – King County has issued several warnings about vaping, including a post on the Public Health Insider specifically about Juul.
“Fully addressing the harms to King County and counties across the nation that were caused by Defendants’ conduct will require a comprehensive approach, one that includes addiction counselors trained in youth vaping, prevention education that includes information about the health consequences of JUUL use on adolescents’ bodies and minds, developing refusal skills, and addiction treatment options,” according to the lawsuit.
“Without the resources to fund these measures, King County and others similarly situated will continue to be harmed by the ongoing consequences of Defendants’ conduct.”
As we allege in the complaint, it is clear that JUUL, like Big Tobacco before it, targeted youth to hook a whole new generation on candy-flavored nicotine. JUUL was well aware that their products would appeal to youth—driving an ever-increasing epidemic of nicotine addiction and severe lung illness. The taxpayers of King County must not be stuck with the tab for a public health crisis that has lined the pockets of JUUL and their shareholders.
Intentionally targeting youth and teens with candy-flavored vapor products to get them hooked on nicotine and turn them into lifelong customers is wrong and has led to a new public health crisis in our county. It is important that we hold companies that engage in these deceitful practices responsible for their actions. Adults may find enjoyment and benefits from using vapor products, but kids should not be lured into forming harmful habits.
For more information, contact:
Alex Fryer, Executive Office, 206-477-7966