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Raoul Sues JUUL For Role In "Youth E-Cigarette Epidemic"

Illinois’ Attorney General is suing e-cigarette maker JUUL Labs, alleging the company intentionally hooked teens on vaping.

Vaping products like those from JUUL are popular among teenagers. 25 percent of Illinois high schoolers have tried vaping, according to a survey funded by the state’s Department of Human Services. That same survey, from 2018, found as few as five percent of high schoolers tried traditional cigarettes.

While JUUL markets itself as a product used to kick the habit of smoking, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul joined others who said the product has creates a new addictive habit for minors. He read from a JUUL package for reporters during his announcement, which included, “Don’t give up. You’ll find your perfect puff.”

“Those aren’t words of a company trying to get people to stop a bad habit," he said. "Those are words of a company trying to entice people, and particularly young people, into starting a bad habit.”

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Cook County District Court, demands the company pay a $50,000 fine for each of the variety of “deceptive acts” it’s alleged to have committed, and to stop its marketing practices entirely.

The Attorney General described some of those practices in the suit, like those that involved JUUL misrepresenting how much nicotine its vaping cartridges contained, and making “sleek sales pitches” directly to teenagers via social media.

Johnathan Klein, a pediatrics professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, says proof of those claims can be found in the flavors it peddles, which include sweeter varities like mango.

“The whole idea that they’re somehow necessary for adults to quit is part of JUUL’s marketing to our young people," Klein said.

Illinois' Public Health director, Ngozi Ezike, is among those investigating the health effects of vaping pods from companies like JUUL.

"It is really hard to say what the long-term dangers of e-cigarettes (are) because no one actually knows, and we don't want to be practicing on our youth," Ezike said during the announcement.

Even though the company has pledged to stop TV and print marketing campaigns, Attorney General Raoul said it isn't enough.

“The cat’s already out of the bag," he told reporters. "Minors and young adults are already hooked and they’re passing it on to the next generation.”

New York, Minnesota and California have also sued the e-cigarette maker, which has continued to come under fire from federal lawmakers. JUUL’s troubles have cost it and one of its largest shareholders, tobacco company Altria Group, billions in lost revenue.

Illinois' case against JUUL will have its first hearing in April.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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