Minnesota is suing popular e-cigarette company Juul Labs over a rise in youth vaping, alleging that the company violated state consumer-protection laws by targeting young users.
“It is clear that JUUL has turned a generation of youth into addicts,” Minnesota Attorney General said in a lawsuit filed in Hennepin County District Court Wednesday.
Gov. and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan joined Ellison in announcing the lawsuit.
“Students across the state tell me they feel preyed upon by JUUL,” Walz said in a statement. “As a father of two teenagers and Governor of Minnesota, I’m saying enough is enough. We’re going to hold JUUL accountable for the vaping epidemic they started in Minnesota.”
The state accuses Juul of targeting young users with “youth-oriented” sleek designs and an array of flavors. For example, Ellison calls out Juul’s “party mode” feature which allows devices to light up in different colors when waved around.
“Obviously, this has tremendous youth appeal, but as the company itself has observed, is completely meaningless from a functionality standpoint,” Ellison wrote in the suit.
The lawsuit also that alleges Juul “intentionally marketed” its liquid pods in flavors to be specifically attractive to youth and launched a "multi-faceted marketing campaign aimed at America's youth [that is] modeled after Big Tobacco."
A Juul spokesperson said the company does not “intend to attract underage users” and its “customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers.”
The spokesperson also noted that Juul recently stopped accepting orders for the int pods, a popular flavor among teens, and has suspended all broadcast, print and digital advertising in the U.S.
“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Minnesota’s lawsuit comes as the state has reported a rise in youth users in the last three years.
Ellison cited an October report from the Minnesota Department of Health that found that the percentage of 11th graders who vaped in the last 30 days had grown more than 50 percent in the last three years.
Moreover, the number of 9th graders who vaped in the last 30 days had grown 75 percent and the number of 8th graders who vaped in the last 30 days had grown nearly 100 percent.
“This means … that in the last 30 days, 11 percent of all Minnesota 8th-graders have vaped, 16 percent of 9th-graders have vaped, and 26 percent of 11th-graders have vaped,” Minnesota’s lawmakers said in the announcement.
"But ... 75 percent of Minnesota’s youth who used e-cigarettes had never smoked a cigarette before," they added.
The state is calling on the court to declare Juul responsible for creating a public nuisance in Minnesota. It's also asking the court to order Juul to permanently stop its “deceptive conduct in Minnesota, including marketing to youth.”
Additionally, the state is asking the court to order the company to fund a corrective public education campaign about the dangers of youth vaping and fund clinical vaping cessation programs.
The same day that Minnesota filed its lawsuit, Alaska reported its first case of a vaping-related injury. With Alaska’s announcement, vaping-related injuries have been reported in all 50 states across the U.S.
Minnesota's lawsuit comes after a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official was grilled by members of Congress on Wednesday for declining to answers questions about the agency’s plan to curb youth vaping rates.