New York’s Attorney General Letitia James slapped e-cigarette brand Juul Labs with a lawsuit on Tuesday for its deceptive marketing that exacerbated the state’s “ongoing youth epidemic,” officials announced.
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Roughly 4.1 million high schoolers and 1.2 million middle school students use the e-cigarettes, such as the USB-shaped Juul product, which dominates 70 percent of the market, according to a recent National Youth Tobacco Survey, which was included in a Tuesday press release. At least one person – a 17-year-old Bronx teen – has died in the state as a result of the vaping epidemic.
“There can be no doubt that JUUL’s aggressive advertising has significantly contributed to the public health crisis that has left youth in New York and across the country addicted to its products,” said James in a prepared statement. “By glamorizing vaping, while at the same time downplaying the nicotine found in vaping products, JUUL is putting countless New Yorkers at risk.”
Juul Labs spokesperson Austin Finan said in a statement to FOX Business they had not yet seen the lawsuit, but "remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society."
"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," Finan continued. "Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users.”
Juul announced late September the company had appointed a new CEO, former Altria exec K.C. Crosthwaite. Crosthwaite, who was Altria’s chief growth officer before taking on the new role, also served as the CEO and president of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA from April 2017 to June 2018. Altria owns a 35.5 percent stake in Juul.
James charges in the release that Juul used “bright, colorful images of attractive, young models” and a variety of flavors that were appealing to kids.
The law was changed on Nov. 13 to illegalize the sale of all nicotine products, including but not limited to e-cigarettes, to anyone under 21.
While the law previously limited the sale to those over 18, the New York State Department of Health found that 220,000 of the 1 million e-cigarette users in the state were under 18.
James also alleged that, in one case, a Juul representative reached out to high school students from a New York City school directly, and according to the press release, told the ninth-grader “its products were safer than cigarettes.”
Earlier this week, Juul was also sued by the state of California for its controversial ads.
FOX Business reporter Kristina Partsinevelos contributed to this report.
This report was updated to include a statement from Juul Labs spokesperson Austin Finan.