HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania attorney general's office sued electronic cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs Inc. on Monday over how its products are marketed and sold to teenagers.
The agency is seeking an injunction from Philadelphia courts to halt Juul's e-cigarette sales in Pennsylvania or force it to dramatically change business practices.
Nearly a quarter of high school students in Pennsylvania report using e-cigarettes, according to the suit.
Juul Labs Inc. spokesman Austin Finan said the company has not reviewed the complaint but wants to focus on combating underage use and converting adult smokers from traditional cigarettes.
Shapiro, a Democrat, said in a statement that Juul “knowingly targeted young people with tactics similar to the tobacco companies' playbook. There is no proof these e-cigarettes are safe and until there is, we need to get Juul products off shelves and out of the hands of young people."
The complaint also describes the deceptive marketing tactics employed by Juul to target Pennsylvania youth, including its “Vaporized Campaign” on social media and in convenience stores. This campaign’s focus on social media attracted the interest of young people, many of whom were younger than 18 at the time of Juul’s debut in 2015.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states, including New York, Minnesota and California. The lawsuits come as health officials are investigating deaths and illnesses tied to some vaping products.
There have been 61 confirmed and 59 probable cases of vaping products associated lung injury in Pennsylvania, with patients typically in their mid-20s, according to the state Health Department. There also has been one death in the state.
“JUUL manipulated data to deceive consumers about the nicotine content of its products," Shapiro said. "First JUUL estimated their products delivered substantially more nicotine than its competitors in a patent, and then doubled back to say the products were comparable to an average cigarette.
Shapiro is asking the court to, among other things, take Juul devices out of production altogether. If the court does not agree, the attorney general’s office is asking the court impose restrictions on the way the Juul product is designed, marketed and sold and to require the company to pay for youth-oriented prevention programs, public health research and nicotine cessation programs to help abate the harms they’ve already caused.