“In 2018, CDC and FDA data showed that more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, were past-month e-cigarette users.” In light of the high rates of e-cigarette use among their students (and the issues that come along with use), several school districts in Kansas, Arizona, Missouri, New York, Washington, Kentucky, and California have initiated lawsuits against Juul Labs, Inc. The school districts allege that Juul has targeted young smokers, which has burdened schools with trying to fight the issues that come along with nicotine addiction. Schools all over the country have had to spend significant resources – both in time and money – to try to stop their students from becoming addicted to vaping or otherwise reduce the usage.
A few examples of the resources schools have put towards dealing with vaping includes hiring additional staff, additional training for staff, creating new curriculum about vaping, and even installing special devices in bathrooms to detect vaping. Because many e-cigarettes look like flash drives, schools have even had to enact new policies banning flash drives from student use. Vaping devices can be very small and look like other everyday items as well, making enforcement of these policies difficult for schools. In addition to time and money spent policing students’ vaping, students and teachers are also losing valuable classroom time due to disciplinary issues.
No actions on behalf of school districts have been initiated on behalf of North Dakota or Minnesota schools yet; however, there are some significant injuries and addiction issues noted within the states. In fact, on December 4, 2019, the Minnesota Attorney General announced the State of Minnesota sued Juul, claiming Juul has targeted young people and deceptively lured minors into using and becoming addicted to its product. Other states like New York and California have also sued Juul for its role in creating a public health crisis, especially among young people.
Although the State of North Dakota has not initiated a lawsuit, the negative effects of vaping have been noted within the state. For example, the North Dakota Department of Health has noted 59 self-reported cases of vaping-related illnesses. Young people across the country have been significantly affected, with 15% of individuals hospitalized for vaping-related illness being under the age of 18. Additionally, 37% of hospitalization cases were between the ages of 18 and 24. Clearly, the brunt of this epidemic is affecting young people, likely due in part to marketing campaigns directed towards them.
The efforts of schools working to prevent and reduce the use of vaping devices, including those created by Juul, are very important to helping prevent those vaping-related illnesses in addition to the other addiction issues that come with using these devices. Initiating legal action to seek damages from Juul is another important step for schools to take to help their students and their communities.
Tim O'Keeffe is a founding partner of O'Keeffe O'Brien Lyson Foss in Fargo, North Dakota. Tim is a trial lawyer representing victims in serious injury and wrongful death cases throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. Tim is the Past President of the North Dakota Association for Justice and currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice.