Orange schools sue JUUL over teen vaping
Members say electronic cigarettes pose health risks to students
The Orange County School Board will sue JUUL, joining other school districts nationwide in an effort to hold the manufacturer of the electronic cigarette popular with teenagers responsible for the rise of vaping problems on campuses.
Other school boards in Florida, including those in Seminole, Brevard and Palm Beach counties, have voted to do the same, as have school districts from Washington to Kentucky to New York.
Though each district will file its own lawsuit in federal court, many of the cases are likely to be consolidated, at least initially, in a California court, according to an attorney involved in the legal actions.
Orange school board members, like their counterparts in other districts, said vaping posed significant health risks to students and also created discipline problems on campus, as the JUUL cartridges — containing as much nicotine as 20 traditional cigarettes — look like USB flash drives so are easy to hide.
“It is very hard to monitor, and we have no idea the full health ramifications of this,” board member Pam Gould said Tuesday night before the school board voted to sue JUUL.
JUUL products, launched in 2015 in child-friendly flavors like mint and mango, quickly grew popular among middle and high school students, leading to a “public health epidemic” as adolescent brains are particularly susceptible to damage from nicotine, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
The popularity of JUUL products undid the progress the country made in curbing traditional cigarette use among teenagers, the agency said.
Orange School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs called that “outrageous” and “despicable” and said she wanted to end the company’s “predatory practice on our students.”
Possessing or using e-cigarettes is a violation of school conduct codes, so student vaping has become a discipline issue on many campuses, administrators have said.
But the state’s student discipline system, which local districts use to report incidents, lumps vaping with other tobacco infractions, making it hard to know exactly how many vaping incidents there are on campuses.
Orange administrators said Tuesday that a preliminary attempt to pull vaping data for their schools showed there had been a steep increase in students caught with e-cigarettes since the 2015-16 school year.
Though the numbers presented may not capture all vaping incidents, they showed that e-cigarettes now dominate tobacco infractions and have more than tripled in three years.
In the 2015-16 school year, for example, there were 139 tobacco incidents, and 11 of them were for vaping, the data showed.
In the 2018-19 school year, there were 479 incidents and 357, or 75% of them, were for vaping.
Because of the vaping problem, at the start of the school year the district produced a video shown to Orange students that showcased how vaping on campus could get them in trouble.
The eight-member board voted unanimously to file the lawsuit, which will be pursued without cost to the school district.
The attorneys, including a local firm that helped Florida win its landmark settlement against tobacco companies in the late 1990s, will earn fees only only if the lawsuits are successful and win money for the school districts.