Baltimore County, Md., filed a class-action lawsuit on Monday against Juul Labs in the Northern District of California, where the consolidated cases against Juul and related companies are being heard. The 313-page redacted complaint purported that the electronic cigarette companies and individuals involved with the companies strategized to maximize profits by causing consumers to become addicted. As a jurisdiction, the county purported that the prevalence of Juul e-cigarettes has incurred additional costs to the county.
“Defendants’ misconduct alleged herein is not a series of isolated incidents, but instead the result of a sophisticated youth marketing scheme and related cover-up scheme that has caused a continuing, substantial, and long-term burden on Plaintiff and the services provided by Plaintiff,” the complaint alleged.
The county claimed that the defendants knew that nicotine addictions caused the e-cigarette to become the “most successful consumer product of all time,” and that the product was designed to create addictions and entice more people, specifically young people, with flavoring additives. Further, the companies were accused of targeting youth and teenage markets.
Monday’s complaint, similar to many others in the consolidated matter, purported that the marketing scheme designed by the defendants was misleading and caused consumers to believe that it contained less nicotine than it actually does and was healthier than other nicotine options. Other complaints have been filed by jurisdictions, mostly cities, but other counties and states have gotten involved in the legal actions. Other plaintiffs in the multidistrict litigation include individuals who have used electronic cigarettes, their family members, and school districts.
As a government entity, Baltimore County added some additional allegations, including that e-cigarette use in schools has “placed severe burdens on society and schools in particular.” The plaintiff further said that “it is not an overstatement to say that JUUL has changed the high school and even middle school experience of students across the nation.” Reportedly, schools have diverted resources to respond to the growing use of e-cigarettes by students. The filing also explained that there were problems with the defendant’s youth protection programs, and that they are ineffective at teaching students that the products are dangerous.
Baltimore County said that it “has been significantly affected by the public health crisis caused by youth e-cigarette use.” It cited that 14.5 percent of high schoolers in the county currently use e-cigarettes. It said, “Defendants’ conduct has created a public health crisis in Plaintiff’s community, which has forced Plaintiff to divert a significant and ( ) unexpected amount( ) of time and resources to address the pervasiveness of youth e-cigarette use in its community, which has imposed a significant drain on Plaintiff’s resources.”
The plaintiff said it has taken “steps to combat the youth e-cigarette crisis,” but with the ability to use the devices frequently without a distinct smell makes it more likely for addictions to develop in youth. Reportedly, schools in the county have made structural changes to combat the issue, like re-locating bathrooms. Because the students are addicted, suspension does not fix the problem and hiring additional staff and addiction specialists has been necessary.
“The lack of treatment options for Baltimore County youth who are addicted to nicotine is a very significant concern for Plaintiff and something that cannot necessarily be addressed through efforts such as banning flavors or changing the legal purchasing age for tobacco,” the plaintiff explained. It said that the Food and Drug Administration would not be able to provide the relief needed outside of the court system, because even if e-cigarettes were banned, or banned from youth, the addictions would still exist.
The causes of action include: violating Maryland Public Nuisance Law, the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, negligence, and gross negligence.
Baltimore County is represented by Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Keller Rohrback LLP, and Baltimore County Office of Law.