A Lane County man filed a lawsuit in Lane County Circuit Court on Dec. 20 against Juul Labs, the nation's dominant e-cigarette producer.
The lawsuit is the first against JUUL in Oregon and seeks to establish a class action proceeding, alleging the company engaged in nefarious marketing strategies and caused economic and physical harm to thousands of Oregonians.
The plaintiff in the case, Lane County resident Kewmarse Imani, alleges that Juul Labs and its part-owner the Altria Group knew about the addictive and harmful qualities of e-cigarettes and still marketed and sold the devices to consumers.
The lawsuit alleges that Imani became addicted to Juul e-cigarettes in 2018 and suffers from "life-altering and permanent injuries and will incur medical expenses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress" because of repeated use.
According to the lawsuit, Imani suffered a permanent brain injury because of e-cigarette use. No other details about the nature of the brain injury were provided.
Imani's attorney, Leslie O'Leary, is seeking class action certification for the "thousands of class members reside across Oregon" that have either purchased or used a Juul e-cigarette. (O'Leary is working with an Alabama law firm, Hare Wynn, that specializes in class action cases.)
The complaint draws comparisons between Big Tobacco's marketing strategies and Juul's strategies, alleging that the e-cigarette company saw a void left by the federal crackdown on traditional cigarette use and drew on the opportunity to flood the market with a supposedly healthier product.
"In a pattern eerily similar to what the U.S. saw with combustible cigarettes, millions of American youth have been led by advertising campaigns to think that "it's cool to JUUL," picked up the JUULing habit, and become addicted to nicotine," the lawsuit alleges.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration has routinely slapped Juul for what it has deemed aggressive marketing to teenagers and misleading labels that make consumers believe e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes.
In response to FDA criticism, Juul has shown flexibility. The company altered its practices, including warning label standards on packaging, discontinuing certain fruity flavors, scaling backs its social media ads picturing young, modelesque figures puffing on vapes—yet JUUL continues to be a dominant force in the rapidly growing vaping market.
In September 2019, after widespread health impacts, including 50 deaths nationwide roiled the e-cigarette industry, Juul announced it would halt marketing.
Two months later, in November, Juul discontinued its sale of mint-flavored e-cigarettes after national studies found that Juul's market share had fueled the dramatic spike in teen use of e-cigarettes.
A JUUL representative could not immediately be reached for comment.