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Attorney general takes e-cigarette maker to court

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RALEIGH — Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit against Juul last week, accusing the company of designing, marketing and selling its e-cigarettes to attract young people and for misrepresenting the potency and danger of nicotine in its products in violation of North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

North Carolina is the first state to take legal action against Juul.

“Juul targeted young people as customers. As a result, vaping has become an epidemic among minors,” said Stein. “Juul’s business practices are not only reckless, they’re illegal. And I intend to put a stop to them. We cannot allow another generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine.”

Juul, which has 75% of the overall e-cigarette market, has claimed that its products are intended only for adult smokers — but Stein said Juul use is now rampant and growing among middle and high school students.

In 2017, nearly 17% of all North Carolina high school students reported using an e-cigarette within the past 30 days. Within the last year, use of e-cigarettes increased among high-schoolers nationally by 78% and among by middle-schoolers by 48 percent.

Stein’s complaint claims Juul deliberately designed flavors, the product and its chemical composition to appeal to young people. Stein claims the company marketed its products to youth on social media platforms and through the use of youth-oriented sponsors and social media influencers. Stein said Juul used lax age verification techniques for online purchases that allowed purchasers to avoid or circumvent age requirements.

Juul also routinely understated the strength of nicotine in its products and downplayed their health risks, according to the attorney general. The potency of a typical Juul pod is so strong and addictive that it is nearly three times the permissible concentration allowed for sale in a number of countries for people of all ages.

Each refillable flavored Juul insert contains nicotine and other toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, arsenic and acetone. The health risks of nicotine exposure and vaping include dramatic changes in the brain, lung inflammation, COPD, respiratory disorders, addiction, long-term behavioral changes and an increased likelihood of future drug misuse. Stein is asking the court to require Juul to cease selling e-cigarettes to minors in North Carolina, limit the flavors sold in the state, stop advertising and marketing practices that are intended to or likely to appeal to minors and delete all customer data for customers whom Juul cannot confirm are at least 18.

Stein is also requesting civil penalties, disgorgement of Juul’s profits from its allegedly unfair and deceptive practices to the state and other fees and costs. He launched an investigation into Juul last fall.