Juul pays $22.5 million to settle Washington vaping lawsuit

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — E-cigarette giant Juul Labs will pay Washington state $22.5 million and has agreed to a series of reforms to limit its use and sale by minors in a statement Wednesday by the attorney general to prevent the agreement announced by Bob Ferguson.

Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit in September 2020, saying the country’s largest e-cigarette company targeted underage consumers and misled consumers about its product’s addictive nature.

“Juul’s behavior has hurt Washingtonians,” Ferguson said at a press conference in Seattle. “You have harmed the youth of our state.”

Ferguson said that when the product launched in 2015, the company flooded social media with colorful ads, leading to a surge in use and nicotine addiction among teens. According to Ferguson’s office, Washington’s percentage of steaming high school students rose from 13% in 2016 to almost 21% in 2018.

Pursuant to the consent decree filed in King County Superior Court, Juul Labs admitted no wrongdoing in resolving the case. In an email following the announcement, the company called it “another step in our ongoing effort to reset our company and resolve issues from the past.”

It is the company’s fourth such state comparison in the past year. In November, Juul settled $14.5 million with Arizona prosecutors, just months after she agreed to pay $40 million in North Carolina. As in Washington, the company pledged not to market to minors in those states and to step up enforcement of retailers selling its products.

Lawsuits remain in a handful of other states. In its statement Wednesday, the company said it had also settled with Louisiana.

“We will continue to work with federal and state stakeholders to advance a fully regulated, science-based marketplace for vapor products,” the company wrote.

Under the settlement announced in Washington state, Juul must stop all advertising targeting youth and not market its products on social media, including Facebook and Instagram. It must also monitor and report social media content about Juul Products posted by underage users and implement practices to prevent underage youth from purchasing Juul Products online, including requiring an ID-verified signature an adult upon delivery of the products.

The company must also confirm the age of anyone making warranty claims on a Juul product.

According to Juul’s website, the company had stopped all advertising before Ferguson sued in 2020 and stopped selling all flavored products except for menthol and tobacco.

The company must also implement a secret buyer program, which Ferguson says is more robust than those in previous settlements. Under the agreement, Juul must send secret buyers to at least 25 compliance checks per month at Washington-based Juul resellers for at least two years. These inspections must be nationwide, with at least one inspection per year in each of the state’s 39 counties.

According to Ferguson’s office, the secret buyers must confirm that retailers meet the requirement to verify a shopper’s age and that they meet the requirement to limit purchases of Juul products to one Juul device and 16 Juul pods per transaction. Juul is required to report the results of the program to Ferguson’s office every three months.

According to the consent decree, Juul will be ordered to pay the sum of $22.5 million over the next four years. Ferguson said the money will be used to create a new health justice unit at that office to respond to fraudulent and discriminatory health care practices that disproportionately affect vulnerable communities and communities of color.

A national survey released last fall found that teenage vaping fell sharply while students were studying from home during the pandemic. In the national survey, 11% of high school students and less than 3% of middle school students said they had recently used e-cigarettes and other vaping products, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

That was a drop of about 40% from 2020, when nearly 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school students reported vaping recently.

Dates for 2022 have not yet been published. Schools in Washington fully reopened in the fall of 2021.

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