Washington, D.C. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb announced April 12 that JUUL, an e-cigarette manufacturer, will pay D.C. $15.2 million in a settlement for preying on children and falsely advertising their products to consumers.
D.C.’s lawsuit against JUUL for its dangerous products and targeted advertising to minors follows litigation from many other states, including California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Colorado. In total, these states have obtained $462 million in lawsuit settlements against JUUL.
As a result of the settlement, JUUL is now subject to strict advertising regulations, including a ban from advertising on social media channels, more stringent ID verification and limitations on online and in-person bulk orders, according to a press release from the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.
Attorney General Schwalb, who served as prosecution in the case, said the company used deceptive advertising, such as not disclosing the amount of nicotine content of their e-cigarettes in milligrams, to manipulate vulnerable consumer demographics.
“JUUL knew how addictive and dangerous its products were and actively tried to cover up that medical truth,” Schwalb said in the press release. “The Office of the Attorney General prioritizes protecting District children’s health and safety and ensuring our kids can live healthy, hopeful lives.”
New data suggests vaping, or using e-cigarettes, leads to chronic lung disease, asthma and cardiovascular disease when used alongside cigarettes. Much information about the long-term impacts of vaping have yet to be tested, meaning users are exposed to chemicals with unknown effects.
Despite declines made in smoking rates in youth, e-cigarette usage is increasing dramatically, especially among teens, according to the press release. 3.6 million kids in the United States used e-cigarettes in 2018, including 1 in 5 high school students, according to the FDA and Surgeon General.
The settlement is the largest litigated settlement that the D.C Attorney General has brought against a company. The lawsuits are grounded in the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which prohibits deceit in business practices. At least 50% of the settlement amount will be used directly to mitigate the public health damages JUUL’s products caused, according to the release.
JUUL had previously paid $438.5 million in a lawsuit with similar concerns on the company’s marketing to underage consumers brought by 33 states and Puerto Rico, which was settled in September 2022.
Georgetown has maintained a tobacco and smoke-free campus since 2020. This move was in an effort to take greater care of the Georgetown community and emphasize Jesuit values.
Ranit Mishori (MED ’02), chief public health officer at Georgetown, said the outcome of the settlement is a step in the right direction for holding e-cigarette companies accountable.
“It’s an important intervention and a great outcome, but this complex public health issue requires a well-coordinated multi-sectoral approach that includes policy issues related to marketing, advertising, retail, age limits, bans on flavoring, price increases, additional medical and public health research, as well as prevention and education campaigns targeting susceptible groups, among others,” Mishori wrote to The Hoya.
Studies show that e-cigarette usage leads young people to start smoking conventional cigarettes and other products that contain tobacco, such as cigars and hookahs. Other risks of e-cigarettes include the batteries and devices exploding or catching fire, resulting in serious injuries.
Mishori said that the risks of vaping are entirely avoidable, which is why lawsuits against their advertisement and distribution are so important.
“It is up to us to educate ourselves, our family, and our friends, and to actively resist using and promoting these harmful products,” Mishori wrote. “It is also critical to come together to demand policy and regulatory changes and push for accountability for our community at large.”
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