Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Supervisor Janice Hahn announced a lawsuit against San Francisco-based electronic cigarette maker JUUL Labs Inc. Monday, alleging the company targeted young people through advertising and failed to give warnings about the product.
The Alameda County Superior Court lawsuit also alleges that JUUL unlawfully failed to verify the age of California consumers.
It also claims the company violated the privacy rights of minors by keeping the personal email addresses of underage individuals who failed age verification on JUUL’s website and using those email addresses to send them marketing materials.
“We will not retreat and we will fight back,” Becerra said during a news conference with Hahn and Lacey at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.
The use of vape products by minors has been sharply on the rise, Becerra said.
A JUUL representative could not be immediately reached for comment on the suit.
The use of flavored e-cigarettes, or vaping, by young people in the United States, including middle and high schoolers, continues to increase rapidly, according to reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
JUUL sales have grown dramatically and now make up more than 64 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market, authorities said. According to Becerra’s office, medical researchers have shown that many JUUL users continue to smoke cigarettes and that children who were not likely at risk to start smoking cigarettes have done so as a result of their use of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes.
“We’ve worked too hard, committed our hard-earned money for too long combating harmful tobacco use to stand idly by as we now lose Californians to vaping and nicotine addiction,” Becerra said. “JUUL adopted the tobacco industry’s infamous playbook, employing advertisements that had no regard for public health and searching out vulnerable targets. Today, we take legal action against the deceptive practices that JUUL and the e-cigarette industry employ to lure our kids into their vaping web. We will hold JUUL and any other company that fuels a public health crisis accountable.”
Lacey said JUUL’s alleged actions amount to consumer fraud and that the company “looked the other way” as underage people purchased vape products.
Hahn said the entire country will be watching to see the outcome of the lawsuit.
“The eyes of the nation will be on us as we fight this battle in court,” Hahn said. “This has become a public health crisis of JUUL’s making.”
Tobacco use among young people had been declining until vape products became popular, said Hahn.