While JUUL Settles with North Carolina, Colorado’s Suit Goes On

Phil Weiser
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s case against JUUL continues on, even as North Carolina settled for $40 million and agreed to change how it conducts its business. / Law Week File.

Earlier this week, the Attorney General of North Carolina reached a settlement with JUUL Labs, Inc., a vaping company, over a suit alleging that JUUL targeted youths with addictive e-cigarettes. While North Carolina has settled, Colorado’s lawsuit with JUUL will continue, according to a spokesman for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

On June 28, the North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced an agreement on a consent order requiring JUUL to pay $40 million and drastically change the way it conducts business, according to the NC AG’s office website. With the settlement, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to “successfully hold JUUL accountable for its role in spiking teen use and dependence on e-cigarettes,” according to a press release from Stein’s office.

“For years, JUUL targeted young people, including teens, with its highly addictive e-cigarette,” Stein said in a statement. “It lit the spark and fanned the flames of a vaping epidemic among our children — one that you can see in any high school in North Carolina.”

In a statement yesterday, Phil Weiser said JUUL previously tried to dismiss the Colorado suit in December 2020. However, the case is still on. A representative of the Colorado AG’s office confirmed that the case is in district court, and JUUL lost the motion to dismiss, and the case continues forward.

As a part of the North Carolina settlement, over the next six years JUUL must pay $40 million which will fund programs to help people quit smoking e-cigs, prevent addiction and to research e-cigarettes, according to the release. “Most” documents from the case against JUUL will become public on July 1, 2022, which the site states will increase transparency around the company’s marketing and prevent “this kind of epidemic from happening again.”

“The fact that JUUL settled with North Carolina for $40 million underscores the gravity of the issue and the strength of our case against the company,” said Weiser. “JUUL must be held accountable for its reckless, deceptive and unconscionable marketing that specifically targeted youth in our state.”

The North Carolina opened in 2018, when Stein began investigating JUUL. By 2019, Stein sued JUUL for designing, marketing and selling e-cigs to “attract young people and for misrepresenting the potency and danger of nicotine in its products,” according to the NC AG’s website.

In a statement from JUUL about the North Carolina Settlement, the company stated that the settlement was consistent with its ongoing effort to reset the company’s relationship with stakeholders as it continues “ to combat underage usage and advance the opportunity for harm reduction for adult smokers.”

Importantly, we look forward to working with Attorney General Stein and other manufacturers on the development of potential industry wide marketing practices based on science and evidence,” JUUL said in the statement. “In addition, we support the Attorney General’s desire to deploy funds to generate appropriate science to support North Carolina’s public health interventions to reduce underage use.”

Back in July 2020, Weiser announced that Colorado filed a suit in district court against JUUL with an intent to protect state consumers, especially Colorado youths, endangered by the “e-cigarette pandemic.” 

The investigation leading to the suit started in 2019, and the complaint against the company alleges that from 2015 until the present JUUL targeted youth with deceptive advertising that downplayed the “ultra-high addictive” nicotine concentration and health risks. Further, the allegations include that JUUL falsely suggested their products were a “healthy alternative” to cigarette smoking, violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

In 2018, Colorado led the nation in youth vaping, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. A July 2020 release from Weiser’s office states that around 27% of Colorado high school students in 2018 had vaped in the previous month, which was nearly double the amount of the national rate.

Weiser’s complaint alleges that JUUL took multiple steps to market products toward youth audiences, which included a developed design to make the product more attractive and easily accessible to youth. “The JUUL device resembles a USB flash drive – making it difficult for parents and teachers to recognize,” the 2020 release states.

JUUL Labs did not return a request for comment on the Colorado suit.

JUUL offered their products in “youth-friendly flavors” like Fruit Medley and Cool Mint, ignoring warnings from public health and government officials that flavored tobacco products lead to youth initiation, according to the 2020 release. The company used ads and social media campaigns to target what the company called “cool kids,” according to the release,  The social media advertising and promotions from JUUL often failed to disclose the product contained nicotine.

As previously reported by Law Week, the complaint alleges that JUUL knew but didn’t disclose that two key ingredients, propylene glycol and glycerol, have not been approved for inhalation and create health risks when heated and inhaled.

Since the North Carolina settlement became final, JUUL is following commitments about business practices enforceable in the state in order to avoid appealing to young people, according to the website. This includes not marketing to people under 21, not using social media or influencer advertising, and not advertising outdoors, near schools or sponsoring sporting events and concerts.

Further, JUUL cannot make claims comparing the health effects of JUUL use with the effects of using cigarettes in marketing materials or not to allow new flavors of nicotine content without FDA authorization, as part of the North Carolina settlement.

JUUL stated in their release on the settlement that over the past two years the company ceased distribution of non-tobacco and non-menthol flavored products “in advance of FDA guidance” and “halted all mass market product advertising.”

“This settlement is another step in that direction,” JUUL said in the statement.

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