Sometimes wishes come true.
Back in March, The Gazette's editorial board asked Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to sue JUUL Labs, which we call Big Vape. Weiser, a Democrat, had launched what would become a yearlong investigation into the company and did not need much nudging from us or anyone else.
Early in July, Weiser emailed The Gazette to announce his filing of a lawsuit in Denver District Court against JUUL. In a world focused on violent riots, at war with an invisible disease, the lawsuit drew far less attention than it warrants.
In pursuit of nothing other than profits, with no concern for their customer base or the good of society, JUUL executives pushed vaping into the market. They callously targeted children, using the old Big Tobacco book, undoing generations of progress toward tobacco cessation in schools. They addicted young people to nicotine in the hope of selling them products they will crave for life.
Weiser's complaint says JUUL began targeting youths in 2015 with deceptive advertising practices that downplayed the company's "ultrahigh addictive nicotine concentration and health risks."
"Addiction to e-cigarettes poses major health risks to Colorado youth," Weiser said in a written statement.
"JUUL must be held accountable for its reckless, deceptive, and unconscionable marketing that specifically targeted youth, downplayed its nicotine content and the presence of dangerous chemicals, and deceptively claimed its products as a healthy alternative to cigarettes and as a smoking cessation device."
Regarding the company's cessation claims, Weiser argues young vape addicts often turn to cigarettes. Instead of helping people off nicotine, vaping turns them on to it.
Weiser cites data that shows children who use nicotine are 10 times more likely than to misuse prescription drugs. They are two times more likely to use alcohol.
Colorado leads the nation in youth vaping, with a 2018 survey showing 27% of high school students had vaped in the previous 30 days. Weiser says the number of youths who vape doubled from 2018 to 2019.
"The JUUL device resembles a USB flash drive — making it difficult for parents and teachers to recognize," Weiser said. "JUUL also offered youth-friendly flavors, such as Fruit Medley and Cool Mint, ignoring warnings from public health and government officials that flavored tobacco products lead to youth initiation.
"The company targeted what it called 'cool kids' through its ads and social media campaigns. JUUL used brand ambassadors to give out free samples at Colorado convenience stores and instructed them to look for 'cool kids' who may want to try JUUL and could influence their peers and classmates. JUUL also recruited influencers on social media to help spread the word about its product with the goal of reaching the youth market."
The lawsuit seeks compensation for a variety of damages, including harming the health of Colorado's children and creating an atmosphere of distraction and disciplinary problems in schools. It also calls for the court to end JUUL's "unlawful and deceptive trade practices."
Colorado's lawsuit joins hundreds of others filed by cities, counties, states and school districts. Hopefully, they will combine to topple this predatory profit mill.
A lawsuit filed by California details how JUUL founders Adam Bowen and James Monsees studied the tactics, practices and strategies of Big Tobacco when developing their business plan. The founders, who met as students at Stanford, have each become billionaires by addicting children to nicotine — ranked the fifth-most addictive substance on earth by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Weiser, who proudly calls himself "the people's lawyer," deserves accolades and support for fighting Big Vape. Let's hope he makes an example of Bowen and Monsees, dissuading future entrepreneurial hacks so unscrupulous they will prey upon children with schemes to generate ill-begotten gain.
REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE
Photo credit: Sarah Johnson