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E-Cigarette Lawsuit Claims Deceptive Advertising, Fraud

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University of Oregon student suffers seizure, brain injury, addiction

Eugene, ORAmong other e-cigarette side effects, Kewmarse Imani, who began JUULing in 2018, is now addicted to nicotine and will struggle with that addiction for life. Imani v. JUUL Labs, Inc. and Altria Group, Inc., a class action lawsuit, claims that his nicotine addiction is the result of a permanent injury to his developing brain and that he suffered a seizure because of exposure to the toxic substances in JUUL.

The lawsuit links his injuries to deceptive marketing practices that targeted adolescents and left him and other consumers unaware that JUUL products presented a risk of addiction, stroke, respiratory problems, cardiovascular problems, seizures, and brain damage. It turns primarily to the consumer protection laws of California and Oregon for redress.
 

TARGETING TEENS         


Adolescents were traditionally regarded as an important, if not the most important, growth market  for the cigarette industry. Decades of litigation and other reform efforts have now seriously curtailed teen-targeted cigarette marketing. Among the most significant of these efforts is the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the Attorneys General of 46 states, five U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and the four largest cigarette manufacturers in America concerning the cigarette advertising, marketing and promotion. Teen smoking has declined sharply.

As the Imani complaint points out, however, that Master Settlement Agreement does not expressly cover e-cigarettes. JUUL, the complaint alleges, saw an opportunity and exploited this loophole. Ironically, Big Tobacco’s marketing strategy was relatively easy to copy, since it was well-documented and a matter of public record as part of the negotiations leading up to the Master Settlement Agreement.

Even casual observers will notice the similarities. JUUL came in pods with flavors like “cool cucumber” and “crème brulee,” designed to appeal to those not yet focused on nicotine stimulation. It portrays users as young, hip, glamorous, romantically successful and care-free. It hosted youth-oriented “launch parties” and even paid public schools to provide access to students inside the classrooms so that JUUL could promote its product under the guise of preventing tobacco addiction. A high-school student testified to Congress that a JUUL representative told his ninth-grade class that JUUL’s product was “totally safe”
 

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS      

     
According to the complaint, “Until recently, JUUL’s advertisements failed to disclose that its products contain nicotine at levels higher than traditional cigarettes or other electronic cigarettes. Consequently, surveys show the majority of youthful JUUL users have no idea that JUUL electronic cigarettes contain nicotine. JUUL also failed to disclose that vapors from its electronic cigarettes contain respiratory irritants and other chemicals that can cause a panoply of health problems”.

JUUL’s promotional e-mails between June 2015 and April 2016 failed to mention that JUUL electronic cigarettes contained nicotine. JUUL’s Twitter feed did not have a nicotine warning until October 2017. Many young JUUL users have allegedly experienced experiencing respiratory from using JUUL e- cigarettes, and some users have suffered seizures and strokes.

In September 2019, JUUL announced it would halt marketing. In November, it discontinued its sale of mint-flavored e-cigarettes after national studies found that its market share had fueled the dramatic spike in teen use of e-cigarettes. For many who had already become addicted to nicotine, however, the damage was already done.


MORE HARM TO DEVELOPING BRAINS 


Nicotine triggers reward circuits in the brain, binding to receptors and raising dopamine levels, mimicking brain chemicals that affect focus and arousal. The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that nicotine has more significant and durable damaging effects on adolescent brains than it does to adult brains.

Brain imaging studies suggest that those who begin smoking regularly at a young age have markedly reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex and perform less well on tasks related to memory and attention compared to people who do not smoke. These changes are also linked with increased sensitivity to other drugs as well as greater impulsivity. This neurological damage, which appears to be the brain injury cited by Kewmarse Imani, can cause mood disorders and permanent reduction in impulse control. It is also plausibly the reason that addictions acquired during teenage years are especially difficult to treat or manage.


CONSUMER PROTECTION LAW CLAIMS


The plaintiffs’ claims for relief are founded on a variety of legal theories, including common law negligence, breach of implied warranty, strict liability and fraud, unjust enrichment. In addition, the complaint alleges violations of Oregon’s law prohibiting unlawful trade practices, California statutes governing consumer protection, prohibiting false advertising and unfair competition. There is also a claim relating to civil conspiracy.

In essence, though, these are all claims relating to deceptive advertising and fraud. This appears to be a relatively new front in the legal battle ensuring over e-cigarette harm to a growing community of vapers.

READ ABOUT E-CIGARETTES HEALTH HAZARDS LAWSUITS

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