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Will North Carolina school systems sue e-cigarette maker Juul over ‘vaping epidemic’?

·3 min read

Wake County could become the first school district in North Carolina to file a lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul over its role in the increase of vaping among teenagers.

The Wake County school board will vote Tuesday on a proposal from four law firms to represent the district in a federal lawsuit accusing Juul of targeting minors to get them addicted to e-cigarettes. The potential litigation comes at a time when vaping has skyrocketed among teens in North Carolina and nationally in recent years.

“Vaping endangers our students’ health and has placed a burden on our school system,” the law firms say in documents presented for the school board meeting. “While more than 100 school systems in the United States have already filed suit against Juul, WCPSS would be the first school district in North Carolina to file a lawsuit against Juul.

“It will seek to hold Juul accountable for its role in the vaping epidemic.”

If Wake agrees to the legal action, the case would be merged with other federal lawsuits filed against Juul. Wake is North Carolina’s largest school system.

The legal firms also say the legal action would complement the state lawsuit filed by North Carolina against Juul.

In the state’s lawsuit, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein contends Juul, which has 75% of the e-cigarette market, unlawfully marketed to youth through its device design, advertising and social media and failed to ensure that online customers were over 18. The lawsuit also contends the company misrepresented how much nicotine is in its product, making it easier for people to get addicted.

At a court hearing in May, a state judge agreed Juul had destroyed documents, ignored court orders and should face sanctions that could reach into the millions of dollars, The News & Observer previously reported.

Increase in e-cigarette use in Wake

Teen smoking had been on the decline before the rise of e-cigarettes,

But from 2018 to 2019, use of e-cigarettes rose 78% among high schoolers and 48% among middle schoolers, according to the N.C. Youth Tobacco Survey.

The Wake County school system saw a more than 1000% increase in e-cigarette violations among students between the 2016-17 and 2019-19 school year, the N&O previously reported.

“As Juul use rises among school children, Juul reaps enormous profits,” the attorneys say in their presentation to the district. “Wake County Schools are left to deal with the costs and consequences of Juul’s acts.

“This litigation provides the opportunity to recover those costs and fund abatement.”

The law firms say Wake could seek past and future damages such as resources spent on monitoring e-cigarette use, on-campus prevention efforts, addiction treatment and student discipline proceedings.

The law firms say the litigation is low risk for Wake because the attorneys will cover the legal costs. The attorneys would be paid out of a contingency fee from whatever money Wake would get in the case.