Pennsylvania is joining other states across the country in taking legal action against a popular e-cigarette company on claims the firm engaged in deceptive marketing practices – particularly toward youth.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week announced his office has filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs, a San Francisco-based company touting its vaping and e-cigarette products as alternatives to traditional cigarettes.
In the complaint, Shapiro alleges Juul violated Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection law by jeopardizing the health of all residents and, in particular, harming young people with what his office is describing as “kid-friendly” flavors.
In the lawsuit, Shapiro is calling for an outright ban on the sale of all Juul products across the state.
If the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County does not agree to an outright ban of selling all Juul products across Pennsylvania, Shapiro in the news release said he is asking for restrictions in the manner the company’s products are designed, marketed and sold.
“JUUL knowingly targeted young people with tactics similar to the tobacco companies’ playbook,” Shapiro said in a statement. “There is no proof these e-cigarettes are safe and, until there is, we need to get JUUL products off shelves and out of the hands of young people.”
The complaint also alleges Juul executives engaged in deceptive practices through its marketing materials.
“JUUL manipulated data to deceive consumers about the nicotine content of its products,” Shapiro said. “First, JUUL estimated their products delivered substantially more nicotine than its competitors in a patent and then doubled back to say the products were comparable to an average cigarette.”
Attempts to reach Juul representatives for comment on Shapiro’s lawsuit were unsuccessful, but the company released a statement in October, announcing its intent to halt the sale of all non-tobacco, non-menthol flavors across the U.S.
The company’s announcement came at a time of growing allegations of perceived flavors – including crème, cucumber, fruit and mango – that were encouraging young people to purchase Juul’s products.
In the October statement, Juul CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said the internal decision was designed to keep the product away from youth.
“We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” Crosthwaite said.
While the company has narrowed its product selection, Shapiro in his statement continued to take aim at the company. The complaint states an estimated 28 percent of middle and high school students in Pennsylvania are using e-cigarettes.
“They disregarded their growing audience of young users, taking no action, as their profit margins skyrocketed on the backs of American kids,” Shapiro said.