CUSD joins class action suit against e-cigarette maker SanTan Sun News

CUSD joins class action suit against e-cigarette maker

September 15th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
CUSD joins class action suit against e-cigarette maker
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By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

The Chandler Unified School District is joining more than 100 others across the country in going after the vaping industry.

The Governing Board voted at its Aug. 25 meeting to join current litigation against Juul Labs, the largest seller of e-cigarettes in the U.S.

“The purpose of the litigation is to compensate school districts for their damages, and expenses, enforcing their rules that prevent electronic cigarettes, and vaping inside schools and near school grounds,” said Joel Sannes, a lawyer at Udall Shumway which is working with the district.

Sannes told the board at the meeting the three law firms behind the litigation approached the district to see if they wished to be part of it. About 160 districts around the country, including several in Arizona, have already agreed to join the lawsuit

The three law firms working together in this case are Keller Rohrback, Grant Woods, and the Law Office of Joseph C. Tann.

They claim Juul marketed its products to teens and children. As a result, youth nicotine use has been on the rise. The use of tobacco products fell by 73 percent among high school students from 2000 to 2017. That changed after Juul started selling its products in 2015. In 2017 and 2018 the number of American teens using tobacco jumped 40 percent.

A Stanford University School of Medicine study concluded Juul’s advertising was “patently youth oriented” with vivid colors, youthful models and candy-like flavors.

It claimed there was an 80 percent increase in high school students vaping. It also found a 50 percent increase in the number of middle school students using e-cigarettes.

Lawsuits already filed against Juul say company founders Adam Bowen and James Monsees set out on a path to “refresh the magic and luxury of the tobacco category” and reach “consumers who aren’t perfectly aligned with traditional tobacco products”  in order to recreate the lost “ritual and elegance that smoking once exemplified.”

“By design, a cornerstone of the product’s commercial success is its addictive nature,” the suit states. “JUUL is, in many ways, the paradigmatic start-up. It has all the markings of Silicon Valley success: staggering profit margins, meteoric growth and status as a cultural phenomenon.”

Indeed, the company in three months reached a valuation of $10 billion, according to the suit, which cited statements Monsees has given in interviews that said internal documents he obtained from lawsuits against tobacco product manufacturers helped the company design equally addictive products.

Specific numbers for the Chandler Unified School District were not available. CUSD Spokesman Terry Locke said the person who compiled that information recently left for another opportunity.

Locke said the district wants to be compensated for its prevention and treatment programs, detection devices, as well as time school resource officers have devoted to enforcement. It also wants to be compensated for programs designed to help students catch up because of time missed because of vaping.

He said the district also loses money for every absence caused by vaping, whether it be because of health issues or suspensions.

The questions the Governing Board asked during the hearing focused on possible legal costs they would have to pay if the courts ruled in Juul’s favor.

Sannes told them that is a possibility, but not much of one.

“It’s highly unlikely, as far as you can get on the scale of highly unlikely, (that) the District might be required to pay attorneys’ fees if it didn’t prevail.”

Sannes said it is slightly more possible the District might have to pay court costs if it ends up on the losing side, but still said that it unlikely. He said the most likely scenario is this case will end up being settled out of court.

Juul also faces litigation from a number of state attorneys general, including Arizona’s. The reason it is the main target is because it controls about 70 percent of the e-cigarette market.

The company has claimed its products are for adult use only. Critics say it tried to appeal to youth by offering flavors such as mango, fruit, creme and cucumber.

University of California San Francisco researchers found five to eight times more nicotine in a Juul pod than in other tobacco products.

“There should be no easy access to school-age children for marketing and distribution of vaping products,” Locke said.

In a lawsuit joined by Kyrene School District two years ago, attorneys said, “It is not an overstatement to say that JUUL has changed the educational experience of students across the nation.”

“JUUL use has completely changed school bathrooms – now known as ‘the JUUl room’…The ubiquity of JUUL use in high school bathrooms has generated numerous online spoofs about ‘the JUUL room.’

“Kids have also coined the term ‘nic sick’ – which, as one high school student explained to CBS News, ‘kinda seems like a really bad flu, like, just out of nowhere. Your face goes pale, you start throwing up and stuff, and you just feel horrible.’”

The suit says “rampant JUUL use has effectively added another category to teachers’ and school administrators’ job descriptions; many now receive special training to respond to the various problems that JUUL use presents, both in and out of the classroom.”

“Some schools have responded by removing bathroom doors or even shutting bathrooms down and schools have banned flash drives to avoid any confusion between flash drives and JUULs.

“Schools have also paid thousands of dollars to install special monitors to detect vaping, which they say is a small price to pay compared to the plumbing repairs otherwise spent as a result of students flushing vaping paraphernalia down toilets. Other school districts have sought state grant money to create new positions for tobacco prevention supervisors, who get phone alerts when vape smoke is detected in bathrooms.”

It also notes that JUUL even targeted summer camps with kids as young as 8 in an effort to push its vaping products.

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