WCS join national litigation against Juul

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published December 21, 2021

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WARREN/STERLING HEIGHTS — In an effort to curtail vaping among middle school and high school students, Warren Consolidated Schools has joined with several districts across the country to sue the electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc.

On Nov. 22, the district issued a press release announcing it was among the many districts nationwide that are part of a national litigation movement to go after Juul financially. 

The WCS press release states teenage cigarette use is at an all-time low, but the use of e-cigarettes — like those made by Juul — “has stealthily grown to epidemic proportions in schools across America.” 

“‘JUUL-ing’ is so prevalent among middle and high school students, that school districts across the country are suffering the financial consequences and depleting their already scarce resources to pay for vaping’s devastating impacts to their students,” the press release states. 

“It’s a big effort with lots of school districts. Like many school districts, we have seen first-hand the devastating effects of vaping on our children and enough is enough. Vaping develops a physical addiction,” WCS Superintendent Robert Livernois said. “JUUL has a campaign targeted towards children. We view vaping as identical to smoking for underage children. It’s illegal. We don’t allow smoking or electronic cigarettes on property.” Any student caught smoking or vaping on campus “would face suspension.”

Headquartered in San Francisco, Juul sells various vaping products. According to the company’s website, www.juul.com, a Juul pod is the cartridge that clicks into the top of the Juul device and contains a proprietary nicotine salt-based e-liquid formula. The goal was “to develop a vaping experience comparable to a cigarette, that would provide a satisfying experience and flavor.” The website states the Juul pod flavors are Virginia tobacco and menthol.

According to WCS, the Juul pods resemble a USB flash drive, a common piece of technology used by many middle- and high-school students. When inhaled, the Juul pods release a blast of the company’s nicotine salts in flavors such as fruit medley, mint and crème brûlée, according to school officials. 

“It’s clearly a way to target children so you have a lifetime use of the product,” Livernois said. 

The Kansas City-based law firm Wagstaff & Cartmell — along with a coalition of four other law firms — is representing the districts. According to WCS, the law allows school districts to hold companies responsible for the damage they cause to society — damage that is addicting an entire generation of middle- and high-school kids to nicotine. 

“The lawsuit is gaining traction among school districts across the country, other school districts are still able to join; there is no out of pocket cost to schools,” the press release states. 

“The devastation and damage that JUUL has created, with teen-targeted advertising and marketing, and youth-focused products, has created a huge problem for many schools” said Jon Kieffer, a partner at Wagstaff & Cartmell. “JUUL has deliberately designed a product that attracts kids and then hooks them.”

C & G Newspapers reached out to Juul via email for comment on the lawsuit, but didn’t receive a response by press time. Livernois feels the increase in vaping ties into the legalization of marijuana in the state.

“Because marijuana is legal in Michigan it has now become normalized in our culture,” the superintendent said. “Kids vape because adults vape. Kids follow suit.”

There has been an attempt to educate WCS students on the dangers of vaping.

“We talk about it a lot through our health curriculum,” Livernois said. “We’ve been addressing and battling this at school, especially at the high schools.” 

Along with the dangers imposed on students, the school districts also are suing for financial reasons as trying to curtail vaping is costing the district money. For instance, WCS school officials have been locking bathrooms at the secondary schools when necessary in an effort to curb vaping. 

“The amount of time we’re spending is extremely expensive,” Livernois said. He added that when principals, assistant principals and security staff have to spend their time on the dangers of vaping, that takes them away from “the other important work of educating children. They should be working on curriculum, teaching and learning.”

Livernois said that if the lawsuit prevails and the district receives any monetary compensation, that money will be used to address the hazards of vaping to students “even more than we’re doing now.”

“We’ll hire people to provide opportunities for kids to participate in student–level approved seminars and conferences that center on the dangers of vaping,” Livernois said. 

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