The Tucson Unified School District has joined a national lawsuit against popular e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, arguing that the company has targeted teens for vaping, endangered students and forced educators to divert time and money to fight an epidemic.
The TUSD governing board voted unanimously Oct. 16 to join the national class action lawsuit against the e-cigarette giant which includes schools in New York, Washington and Kansas.
The lawsuit and the school districts that have joined it are seeking financial compensation for damages they say have been inflicted on the district’s resources and learning environments by the presence of Juul’s products.
In a statement to NPR earlier this month when the lawsuit was first announced, Juul said it has never marketed to children under the age of 21 and has taken steps to prohibit access of its products to anyone under 21 years of age.
Jonathan Kieffer, an attorney with Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP, who is representing the district, told the governing board he has met with districts “from coast to coast” about the issue who have all been financially harmed by the popularity of the product in schools.
“I just spoke to a small school in Kansas today who spent $8,000 on an education curriculum to try to educate kids to not take up vaping,” Kieffer said during an Oct. 16 board meeting, adding that “the numbers on suspensions due to these products is through the roof.”
Kieffer’s firm is one of three other law firms that are working across the country working to create a “coalition” of school districts to take on Juul.
TUSD will not have to pay to enter into the suit, and any attorney fees will be taken out of any settlement, Kieffer told the board.
Vaping has become a hot topic in Arizona and across the nation.
The Arizona Department of Health Services has spent more than $43,000 on Snapchat ads targeting Arizona youth about the dangers of vaping.
The anti-vape ads have been seen more than 19 million times by Arizona youth, according to the Snapchat data, and are part of the “Facts Over Flavor” ad campaign.
Additionally, the lawsuit comes as parents have grown more concerned after lung injuries started being reported related to vaping products. Only 12 lung injuries have been reported in Arizona, according to state health officials.
However, many of the injuries appear to be have been connected to “black market” or aftermarket THC vape cartridges that were either tampered with or not sold by a reputable dealer.
Vaping is likely to be a hot button issue at Arizona’s Capitol in January when lawmakers return for the legislative session.
Last session, there were competing bills to regulate vaping. One, backed by public health officials, sought to define e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which would tax and regulate them just like cigarettes. Tobacco and vaping companies, meanwhile, supported legislation to raise the age for e-cigarette use to 21 in exchange for barring cities and counties from regulating sales.
President Donald Trump’s administration has also weighed in on the issue and signaled that a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes is in the works.