Today, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) took the first step in launching a public health class action lawsuit in Massachusetts against Juul Labs, the makers of the most popular e-cigarette in the United States, for designing and marketing its product to appeal to and addict adolescents. This is the first such case brought against Juul in Massachusetts, and the first such lawsuit asking only one thing: for a court to require the company to fund a statewide clinical program for the treatment of nicotine addiction in young people who used Juul e-cigarettes.
While Juul Labs maintains that its product is intended to be used by adult smokers, the product’s design, in fact, caters to adolescents, whose brains are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction. . Importantly for teens, Juul is designed to be used discreetly. To the untrained eye, a Juul e-cigarette may look simply like a USB drive. The design enables young people to use Juul surreptitiously without parents, teachers, or other adults even knowing. This product feature has helped Juul capture a massive teen market. “Kids use Juul everywhere,” said Matthew Murphy, now 19 years-old and one of the class representatives. “I knew kids who used Juul during class. I used it in my bedroom and my parents couldn’t smell it. They had no idea until long after I was hooked.”
Despite Juul’s claims that its e-cigarettes are intended solely for adult smokers hoping to switch from conventional cigarettes, the company engineered its sophisticated e-cigarettes to yield a physiological response and degree of nicotine ‘satisfaction’ which may actually exceed those of traditional cigarettes. Dr. Jonathan Winickoff is a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School who treats Juul-addicted patients in his pediatric practice. “First of all, Juul is not a recommended or approved product for smoking cessation,” said Winickoff. “On the other hand, a teen can easily inhale a cigarette pack’s worth of nicotine in a Juul pod and, because the product’s design almost eliminates the body’s natural response to bronchial irritation caused by high doses of inhaled nicotine, addiction can occur very quickly”
Juul Labs went from a startup to being valued at over $30 billion in just over three years. Its business model depends on the sale of proprietary “pods” of liquid nicotine, including flavors like Mint, Mango, Fruit, and Crème that help make their e-cigarettes highly palatable and attractive to teenagers.
Marianne Savage is the mother of an addicted teen user of Juul and a class representative. “It is so hard seeing your child struggle with addiction,” said Savage. “It affected his grades, his social life, and his health. We have to fight hard to quit. The ordeal of Juul addiction caused my son a lot of pain and anxiety.”
Because best practices for treatment have yet to emerge, young people suffering from nicotine addiction caused by Juul have very few places to turn for help. “The goal of this lawsuit is to make sure that these kids and their parents in Massachusetts have a place to go to deal with this addiction,” said Mark Gottlieb, Executive Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute. “Our non-profit law firm is taking on Juul Labs so that the company with the greatest responsibility for teenage addiction to e-cigarettes pays the cost for effective treatment for these young people.”