Illinois sues Juul, alleging it targeted minors with its sleek, easily concealed e-cigarette

Posted at 10:38 PM, Dec 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-12 23:38:29-05

(CNN) -- Illinois is the latest state to file a lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul, alleging the company undid "years of progress made to reduce youth smoking rates."

The lawsuit, filed by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Thursday, alleges Juul used a "sleek, easy-to-conceal e-cigarette" combined with fruity flavors that masked a less harsh nicotine solution that it marketed to minors.

Juul's e-cigarette device resembles a USB flash drive, can be charged via a USB port, and can be used discreetly, all features that make Juul's device more appealing to youth, according to the lawsuit. It cited a recent FDA study that showed a sharp increase in the number of high school students using e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2018.

"Juul had a central role in undoing years of work by government agencies and anti-tobacco activists in order to addict a whole new generation to nicotine," the lawsuit states.

Juul hasn't reviewed the complaint yet but has been "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," Juul Labs spokesman Austin Finan said in a statement to CNN.

Juul has stopped accepting US orders for its mint-flavored Juul pods and suspended all broadcast, print, and digital product advertising in the US, according to the statement.

The company said earlier this year that it would start selling only the Virginia Tobacco, Classic Tobacco and Menthol flavors in the US after recent research showed mint flavor was attractive to young people who vape.

In the Illinois lawsuit, Raoul says the company began targeting adult smokers only after it faced sharp criticism to its youth-friendly marketing tactics. Juul launched the "Make the Switch" campaign in 2018, which featured ex-smokers using Juul products to quit smoking cigarettes, the lawsuit says.

"Juul's product is not approved by the FDA as a smoking cessation device and has not put forth credible evidence to support such approval," the lawsuit says. "However, Juul continues to market its product as if it did so."

In its statement, Juul says the company's customer base "is the world's 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intent to attract underage users."

The attorney general is asking for a civil penalty of $50,000 for every "deceptive or unfair act or practice and an additional $50,000 for each act or practice committed with the intent to defraud."

The other states suing

At least five other lawsuits were filed against the company last month focusing on its advertising campaigns.

The California and New York attorneys general sued in November with both largely focusing on the company's youth outreach strategies. The New York lawsuit cited social media marketing campaigns as well as direct outreach to high school students by company representatives.

Two Washington state counties and a school district of more than 500 students sued, filing separate class action lawsuits against Juul Labs and Altria Group, a major Juul shareholder.

Altria Group spokesman Steve Callahan told CNN his company is declining comment on the Washington state lawsuits.

In May, North Carolina sued Juul for its "deceptive and unfair practices," which put "thousands of North Carolina kids at risk of addiction to nicotine," said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

That lawsuit stemmed from an investigation by the attorney general's office, Stein said.

"My investigation showed two things: One, it targeted young people. And two, it misleads the public about the potency of nicotine in its products," he said. "You only have to walk through any high school parking lot in North Carolina to see how pervasive Juul is among young people in our state."

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