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Alaska seeks justice against JUUL and Altria for their role in causing youth e-cigarette crisis

Christian Fernsby |
Acting Attorney General Ed Sniffen announced that the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, Inc. and the Altria Group, Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA and one of the major investors in JUUL Labs, for their roles in causing a dramatic rise in youth e-cigarette use.

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The JUUL e-cigarette, which quickly came to dominate the e-cigarette market, popularized several youth-oriented features, including fruity flavors, reduced harshness to mask high nicotine content, a discreet vapor cloud, and a high-tech design.

Alaska’s Complaint alleges that JUUL successfully employed the marketing strategies previously used by Big Tobacco, with updates for the digital era, including youth-oriented social media campaigns and paid “influencers.”

The State’s Complaint alleges that Altria then conspired with JUUL to maintain and expand the youth e-cigarette market JUUL had created, working to cover up JUUL’s youth marketing just as Big Tobacco tried to cover up its own youth-targeted marketing in the past.

Youth vaping is a public health crisis in Alaska. According to the 2019 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 45.8% of Alaska high school students have tried e-cigarettes, with 26.1% reporting e-cigarette use.

This is a significant increase from 2017, when 15.7% of Alaska high school students reported using e-cigarettes. Alaska’s Complaint alleges that this dramatic rise is a direct result of the marketing strategies used by JUUL and Altria to target teenagers and youth.

The rise of youth vaping in Alaska has undermined the significant progress the State has made (and dollars it has spent) to reduce tobacco product use among youths over the last three decades.

In addition, widespread vaping has resulted in a higher incidence of addiction among youths than that caused by cigarette smoking because JUUL and similar copycat devices combine high nicotine content with features that make the devices both easy to conceal and easy to use.

Alaska will need to spend significant time and resources to combat misperceptions among youths about the risks of vaping and to address the public health crisis caused by a generation of young people addicted to nicotine.

The Complaint alleges that JUUL and Altria violated the law in four ways: (1) by creating a public nuisance under Alaska law; (2) by violating Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act in marketing and promoting e-cigarette products to youth; (3) by negligently developing, marketing, and selling JUUL vaping products; and (4) by conspiring to maintain and grow a market based primarily on sales to youth.

The lawsuit seeks damages, including amounts necessary to fund public health efforts aimed at addressing the youth vaping crisis, as well as abatement of the public nuisance.

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