East Bay school system joins lawsuit against Juul
An East Bay school district has joined the fight against teen vaping and the company they say is responsible for making it popular with young people. The Acalanes Union High School District has joined four other districts in a lawsuit against San Francisco-based Juul Labs Inc. for its role in cultivating what the district calls “an e-cigarette epidemic that disrupts the education and learning environment” across its district.
The suit was filed Tuesday in Contra Costa County Superior Court. The Rocklin Unified School District, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Anaheim Union School District and Poway Unified School District are all part of the lawsuit. Ten other school districts — Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Glendale Unified, Compton Unified, King City Union, Ceres Unified, Anaheim Elementary, Campbell Union, Chico Unified and David Joint Unified — all filed a lawsuit as a group against Juul earlier in January. The suit seeks an injunction to force Juul to stop producing the e-cigarettes as well as compensatory damages for financial losses suffered by the districts as a result of students being absent.
“The lawsuit represents a commitment by the board, the superintendent and the community to end a health epidemic for young people, Acalanes district Associate Superintendent Amy McNamara said Thursday. “Juul has gone out of its way to market to young people, and they’ve succeeded. We’re seeing it everywhere.”
The Acalanes district consists of Lafayette’s Acalanes High School, Moraga’s Campolindo High School, Orinda’s Miramonte High School and Walnut Creek’s Las Lomas High School, Acalanes Center for Independent Study alternative school and Acalanes Adult Education. According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of ecigarette users increased by 1.5 million from 2017 to 2018, the largest spike in any substance recorded in 44 years.
“They’ve absolutely normalized vaping,” McNamara said. “I’ve had students come to the health center saying they want to stop, and they simply can’t.”
A Juul spokesman said the company is working to earn back a better reputation among the public.
“We remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the United States and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with regulators, attorneys general, public health officials and other stakeholders to combat underage tobacco use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” Ted Kwong wrote in an emailed statement.
Kwong also pointed toward Juul’s elimination in November of all flavors but “Virginia Tobacco,” “Classic Tobacco” and menthol as well as its elimination of its print, digital and TV advertising.
“Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers,” Kwong said. “We do not intend to attract underage users. To the extent these cases allege otherwise, they are without merit.”
Acalanes school district officials say the increase in vaping can be blamed on Juul, because “it was marketed as a safe alternative,” McNamara said, “even though we don’t know yet if it is.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that nearly 5 million middle and high school students used tobacco products in 2018 and that 3.6 million used e-cigarettes. It also reported that vaping exceeds any other kind of substance abuse among middle schoolers and is second only to alcohol. More than 80 percent of high school seniors nationally also reported that it was easy to get e-liquid with nicotine for vaping.