Juul Labs, the e-cigarette manufacturer, announced on Tuesday that it has reached settlements covering more than 5,000 cases with nearly 10,000 plaintiffs. The sweeping resolutions, which litigators say will address youth e-cigarette usage, come after more than three years of legal battles.
Sarah R. London, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs in the federal multidistrict litigation, expressed hope for the potential impact of the resolutions.
“These settlements will put meaningful compensation in [the] hands of victims and their families, get real funds to schools for abatement programs, and help government and tribal entities prevent youth use of e-cigarettes across the U.S.,” she said in a written statement.
But Robert Jackler, a Stanford medical school professor who researches the impact of tobacco advertising and served as an expert witness in the proceedings, was less optimistic.
“Time and again, tobacco companies absorb sizable legal settlements as a cost of doing business, only [to] reemerge as highly profitable purveyors [of] nicotine products, which they market to youth,” he said in an email. If Juul survives the financial and reputational blow, “it will escape full accountability for its reprehensive corporate behavior,” he said.
The settlements are the latest development in a spate of legal feuds and public controversies afflicting the once-thriving e-cigarette company.
Partially owned by tobacco giant Altria, Juul has come under fire for marketing to minors, fueling an increase in youth vaping and misrepresenting its products as a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes. While e-cigarettes have not existed long enough to determine their long-term health consequences, they have been linked to nicotine addiction, lung damage, asthma and mental health problems.
Earlier this year, Juul products were temporarily banned by the Food and Drug Administration, which cited insufficient data on their health and safety. (The ban was later put on hold.) In September, Juul agreed to pay $438.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 33 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, which alleged that the company targeted youths and whitewashed the risks of using its products.
Last month, the company announced it would lay off hundreds of employees, cut its operating budget by 30 to 40 percent and stave off bankruptcy, having secured investor financing.
Juul debuted its e-cigarette — a sleek, handheld electronic device used to inhale nicotine mixed with flavoring — in 2015. Originally sold as an innocuous, even fun alternative to traditional tobacco products, the device quickly became popular among youths. A 2019 Washington Post article about teen addiction to e-cigarettes noted that high school students had started referring to the school bathroom as the “Juul room.” The devices remain prevalent in 2022; a study released in October found that 2.5 million adolescents use e-cigarettes.
Philip C. Federico, an attorney representing 60 school districts — including Maryland’s Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County — in the litigation against Juul called the settlement a “tremendous victory.”
“The funds from this agreement will allow school districts to recover the costs of combating this epidemic, which has included hiring counselors, installing monitoring equipment and dedicating other resources to vaping mitigation instead of education,” he said in an email.
Federico said litigators will continue legal action against Altria, which is also being sued for its role in youth vaping.