Lawsuit against JUUL orders $22.5 million payout; vaping is still a problem in schools

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Electronic cigarette company JUUL has been ordered to pay $22.5 million following a lawsuit filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The lawsuit filed in 2020 said the company violated the law when it designed and marketed its products to appeal to underage customers and was deceptive about how addictive its products are.

JUUL was also ordered to:

• Stop advertising that appeals to young people.

• Stop most social media promotion.

• Accurately market the contents and effects of the nicotine in its products.

• Have strict practices to confirm the age of customers who buy JUUL products, including a secret shopper program and online purchase age verification.

JUUL is required to conduct no fewer than 25 secret shopper checks a month at Washington-based JUUL retailers for at least two years and perform at least one check in every Washington county per year.

The company told KIRO7 it already stopped advertising in 2019 and said in a statement in part:

“This settlement is another step in our ongoing effort to reset our company and resolve issues from the past. We support the Washington State Attorney General’s plan to deploy resources to address underage use, such as future monitoring and enforcement. The terms of the settlement are consistent with our current business practices.”

Seattle Public Schools is part of a separate lawsuit against Juul.

The district says while the problem of vaping in school has improved since before the pandemic in 2019, it is still a big issue that is again worsening as students reacclimate to in-person learning.

Lisa Davidson is the manager of prevention and intervention for Seattle Public Schools (SPS). She said now students are going for disposable e-cigarettes that are still available in fruit and candy flavors.

“Absolutely, it is definitely still an issue at Seattle Public Schools, at middle and high school both. We are finding young people vaping during the school day, in bathrooms and parking lots,” Davidson said. “Products such as Puff Bar, Cloud Bar, Elf, all these new disposable fruity flavored products, those are really enticing for young people,” Davidson said.

She says students often buy disposable flavored vapes online. But some are also sold at convenience stores.

“Students say, my parents know about Juul now so I don’t use it. But Juul is the company that started it all, and they’re the company that made this very popular among young people due to their predatory marketing practices,” Davidson said. “We’re still fighting this battle. It is not over.”

Ferguson’s office said in 2016, 13% of high school sophomores in Washington used vaping products. In 2018, that number nearly doubled to 21%. In 2011, less than 1% (0.6%) of middle schoolers used e-cigarettes. By 2019, one in 10 middle schoolers nationwide used e-cigarettes.

The latest data from SPS shows just 8% of high school sophomores said they used vape products, according to an October 2021 survey. However, the district said the number has increased since that survey was taken.

SPS said their teachers and counselors are working to help students who vape and educate kids about the harmful effects of nicotine. The trial for their lawsuit against Juul could start as early as the fall of 2022.

As part of the resolution of the lawsuit filed by Washington State, Juul must also send a regular report to the attorney general’s office that details the results of the secret shopper program every 90 days.

According to the state attorney general’s office, the secret shopper program is part of the company’s history and is among the strictest secret shopper programs used by vapor products sellers anywhere in the U.S.

Under the consent decree, filed in King County Superior Court, JUUL is ordered to pay the $22.5 million over the next four years.