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San Diego and Los Angeles Schools Likely to Join Together in Class Action Suit Against E-Cigarette Giant Juul

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The superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District has expressed intent to join Los Angeles Unified Schools in a class action filing against the nation’s leading e-cigarette manufacturer, Juul Labs. The suit on behalf of Los Angeles Unified Schools was filed last month, and cited Juul for, “creating an epidemic of youth vaping that has infiltrated the second-largest school district in the country, impeding student learning and putting the health and safety of more than 600,000 Los Angeles Unified students at risk.”

San Diego Unified Superintendent, Cindy Marten, indicated today that she will present the matter of joining in the suit to the school board when they next convene. A recent nationwide poll among high school seniors found 25% reported that they had used e-cigarettes or vaped in the past 30 days. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, a state-administered survey conducted during the 2017-2018 school year found that, throughout the San Diego Unified School District, approximately 4% of seventh graders and 7% of 11th graders had used vaping devices within 30 days of being surveyed.

The Los Angeles Unified School District cited similarly troubling statistics upon the announcement of the class action filing last week, including a tenfold increase in student vaping incidences since 2013. Attorneys representing the District also claim that approximately 435 critical incidents were reported during the 2018-19 academic year, but are quick to caution that those numbers are actually misleading, as they underestimate the total incidences from vaping and e-cigarette use by students (more accurate numbers are not known given that only critical incidents tend to be reported). Attorneys have expressed their prediction that, by the end of the current school year, the number of critical incidents will have risen dramatically.

San Diego Unified School’s intent to join the class action lawsuit comes as yet more unwelcome news for Juul, with a wave of associated health injuries — including at least 37 deaths as of October 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — sweeping the nation. 

Last month, Juul announced that they were suspending sales of the majority of their flavored products (including mango, fruit, and cucumber). Said announcement came in conjunction with an agreed settlement with the non-profit group, Center for Environmental Health, which limits Juul’s marketing practices, specifically those intended for kids and teens. The settlement stipulates that Juul:

  • Cannot advertise or promote its products in media whose audience is 15% or more under the age of 21;
  • Cannot market or advertise on social media (except for JUUL’s age-restricted YouTube channel);
  • Cannot use models under the age of 28 in its advertisements;
  • Cannot advertise within 1000 feet of schools or playgrounds;
  • Cannot sponsor or advertise at sporting events or concerts that allow people under the age of 21;
  • Cannot pay for or permit company employees or contractors to appear at school or youth-oriented educational programs or events;
  • Must replace the terms “adults only” or “not for use by minors,” which may entice minors to use JUUL products, with the phrase “the sale of tobacco products to minors is prohibited by law”;
  • Sets clear limits on bulk sales of JUUL products at brick and mortar outlets, as well as on-line;
  • Requires JUUL to continue its “secret shopper” program with specific rules on actions JUUL must take if a store sells a product to a JUUL secret shopper without asking for proof of age.

Additionally, the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that the city’s impending outright ban on the sale of e-cigarettes will remain in effect. Despite the Proposition C ballot measure sponsored by Juul, which aimed to overturn the ordinance, voters supported a prohibition on the sale of e-cigarettes by nearly 4-1. San Francisco is where the company’s corporate headquarters is located. 

Moreover, and perhaps most noteworthy within the litany of unfavorable events plaguing the company, a former Juul financial executive filed a headline-making lawsuit on October 29th alleging the e-cigarette manufacturer knowingly sold at least one million tainted mint-flavored nicotine pods earlier in the year. The plaintiff, former senior vice president of global finance, Siddharth Breja, filed a wrongful termination suit contending his firing was on account of raising concerns regarding the sale of said contaminated pods.

Currently, the Los Angeles Unified School District is represented by attorneys Brian Panish, Rahul Ravipudi, and Jesse Creed of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, along with John Fiske and Scott Summy of Baron & Budd, P.C. David Holmquist, Alexander Molina, and Devora Navera Reed serve as representatives of the Office of General Counsel for the LA Unified School District. 

PINews will provide updates if and when representatives for San Diego Unified Schools are announced.