Three Massachusetts residents who say they became addicted to nicotine while sucking on Juul e-cigarettes have sued the company in what they hope will become a class action covering some 50,000 vaping Massachusetts teens.
The three - one still a teenager and so using a pseudonym - base their suit in part on the claim that Juul designed and marketed its flavored wares specifically to attract teenagers, and that marketing its allegedly unsafe product violates the state consumer-protection law. The three state that if a judge does certify them as lead plaintiffs in a class-action suit, they would only seek to represent people who had not smoked before picking up their first Juul e-cigarette.
The three, who live in Reading, Newburyport and Bolton, say they quickly became addicted to nicotine, began to experience irritability and aggression when deprived of their puffs and had varying levels of success in quitting. One said he would regularly sneak out of class in high school to breath down some vapor in boy's rooms or school hallways, "finding that he could not sit for the duration of a class without taking a puff." According to the complaint, the mother of the 16-year-old has been unable to find anybody to help her son:
In October of 2018, Ms. Savage found a number of already consumed “mint” and “menthol” flavored Juul “pods” in M.’s possession. Around the same time, Ms. Savage observed that M. was experiencing severe behavioral changes attributable to his addiction to Juul e-cigarettes. Due to this addiction, M. became increasingly angry, irritable, aggressive and anxious. M.’s regular use of Juul products affected his athletic performance and caused him to experience physical problems, including coughing, nausea, and vomiting. Ms. Savage has sought treatment for her son’s symptoms, but has been unable to find health care providers who can help M. quit Juuling.
The suit alleges that, in addition to designing its e-cigarettes to provide a higher level of nicotine than regular cigarettes, Juul took steps to make them particularly attractive to teens, by designing some to look like innocuous USB sticks, running ads and promotional photos featuring attractive young people, taking steps to mask nicotine's natural harshness and adding flavors:
Many of the design elements that encourage initiation and continued regular use (e.g., the blending of nicotine salts to increase inhalability and reduce irritation) also increase the abuse liability (i.e., risk for addiction) for teen use of Juul products. Juul has designed its product to eliminate sensory feedback, the body's natural defensive response that would otherwise occur with such a large dose of nicotine, but for the use of JUULSalts and the design of the electronic delivery s ystem. By doing so, Juul's design fundamentally and deceptively impairs the ability of Class Members to identify that they are inhaling something that they would not otherwise inhale, fostering and further facilitating initiation of unwanted regular daily product use. ...
Coupled with more benzoic acid to increase inhalability, Juul e-cigarettes used by Class Members (or their minor children) deliver an absolute concentration of – and form of – nicotine that is unreasonably dangerous, especially to young consumers.
Juul also designed, engineered, patented, and manufactured its vapor liquids to contain chemical flavorings, which have been found to serve as a primary reason for youth initiation of e-cigarette use. Sweet flavors (including "Mango," "Fruit Medley," "Crème Brulee," and "Cucumber"), as well as its menthol-derived flavors ("mint," "cool mint," and "classic menthol"), cater to the preferences of non-smoking minors, whose palates are innately averse to the harsh, bitter taste of unflavored nicotine products and whose brains are particularly susceptible to the appeal of sweet tastes. These flavors allow for the initiation of e-cigarette use among minors, as well as rapid, continuous use of e-cigarettes, leading to unwanted regular and daily use of these Juul e-cigarettes. In one national survey, more than 80 percent of youth e-cigarette users said they used e-cigarettes "because they come in flavors I like," and the vast majority reported that they used a flavored e-cigarette product the first time that they tried vaping.
The complaint adds:
Juul designed, engineered, patented, and manufactured its e-cigarettes effectively to deliver concentrations of nicotine with an unreasonably high abuse liability that would foreseeably lead to unwanted regular and daily product use by Class M embers. Decades of medical research have demonstrated that adolescents are particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction. Nicotine can permanently alter children’s and adolescents’ brain chemistry, with long-term impacts on young people’s physical and mental health.
The three are asking a judge to tell Juul to knock off the youth-oriented ads and marketing and to pay to fund a statewide "clinical treatment and research program" to help teen Juul users kick their habits. The suit does not seek any specific monetary damages, but does ask for "other and further relief that is just and proper."
Complete complaint (5.8M PDF).