Attorney General Kwame Raoul was joined Thursday by physicians and public health advocates to announce a lawsuit the Attorney General’s Office filed against JUUL Labs Inc., the nation’s largest manufacturer of e-cigarettes.
Raoul filed the lawsuit today in Cook County Circuit Court against California-based JUUL, alleging the company intentionally has marketed its harmful nicotine products to minors, misrepresented the potency of nicotine in its products and misrepresented JUUL’s products as smoking cessation devices.
“This lawsuit is part of a comprehensive approach to addressing a public health epidemic, particularly one impacting young people,” Raoul said. “JUUL has intentionally targeted minors and, after being criticized for its intentionally youthful marketing, marketed its product as a smoking cessation device — without having FDA approval to do so. This lawsuit is a step toward holding companies accountable, and I am committed to continuing to partner with advocates, lawmakers, and state and federal regulators to enact policies that protect minors from e-cigarettes and other addictive tobacco products.”
In the lawsuit, Raoul is alleging that by combining its sleek, easily concealed e-cigarette device with an offering of sweet and fruity flavors, a less harsh nicotine solution, and marketing designed to attract minors, JUUL has succeeded in undoing years of progress made to reduce youth smoking rates. JUUL’s e-cigarette device resembles a USB flash drive, can be charged via a USB port, and can be used discreetly, all features that make JUUL’s device more appealing to youth. Raoul’s complaint alleges that further attracting youth smokers is the special nicotine blend developed by JUUL, which contains much higher nicotine content. Although the solution contains more nicotine, the nicotine flavor is less harsh and masked by other flavors such as mint, menthol, mango and crème brûlée, which makes JUUL more appealing to less experienced smokers.
According to Raoul’s complaint, JUUL marketed its already youth-friendly product by launching an aggressive marketing campaign focused on youth by peppering social media websites with images celebrities and influencers using its products. JUUL touted its device as being the “iPhone of e-cigarettes” that was being used by the “cool kids.” Raoul also is accusing JUUL of ignoring warnings that the flawed age verification system on its online store allowed minors to purchase JUUL’s products.
Raoul’s complaint also alleges that in response to scrutiny over its youth-oriented marketing tactics, JUUL began targeting adult smokers trying to quit smoking cigarettes. In 2018, JUUL launched the “Make the Switch” campaign featuring former smokers touting the benefits of replacing combustible cigarettes with JUUL products. JUUL’s product, which contains high level of nicotine, is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a smoking cessation device, but JUUL continues to market its products as such.
Raoul’s lawsuit against JUUL is part of a multifaceted approach to combating the dramatic increase in e-cigarette use. The Attorney General’s Office is continuing to investigate other e-cigarette manufacturers as part of an ongoing investigation into the e-cigarette industry. The office has also committed itself to collaborating with the FDA as it investigates vaping in Illinois. Additionally, Raoul has urged the FDA to ban flavored tobacco products and to strengthen e-cigarette guidance by prioritizing enforcement actions against flavored e-cigarettes.
By the end of 2018, JUUL held more than 75 percent share of the e-cigarette market contributing to the trend of increased e-cigarette use among young people. In 2019, more than 5 million young people reported having used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. In Illinois alone, 27 percent of 12th-graders reported using an electronic cigarette in the last 30 days in 2019. This rate is nearly double the reported rate of adult combustible cigarette smokers in Illinois.
In the lawsuit, Raoul is seeking to permanently enjoin JUUL from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices and hold JUUL accountable for its role in the youth e-cigarette epidemic. Raoul is also seeking a civil penalty of $50,000 per deceptive or unfair act or practice and an additional $50,000 for each act or practice committed with the intent to defraud.
Raoul is encouraging Illinoisans who became ill after using e-cigarettes or vape products to file complaints on his website or by calling one of Raoul’s Consumer Fraud Hotlines: 1-800-386-5438, Chicago; 1-800-243-0618, Springfield; or 1-800-243-0607, Carbondale.
For more information and free resources to help quit tobacco, visit the Illinois Tobacco Quitline website or call 1-866-QUIT-YES.