MDL Judge Pushes Through JUUL Litigation with “Sense of Urgency,” Citing Public Health Concerns  

In the midst of growing concerns about JUUL addiction in the United States and the widespread use of e-cigarettes among youth and teens, the U.S. District Judge presiding over all JUUL addiction lawsuits has indicated that he will move the litigation forward in a quick and efficient manner, given the public health concerns posed by the cases. So far, dozens of lawsuits have been brought against JUUL Labs, the maker of JUUL e-cigarettes, for allegedly making a product that is more addictive than traditional cigarettes and deliberately marketing the product to non-smokers, teens and young adults. In total, thousands of lawsuits are expected to be filed against JUUL Labs by young adults, teens and parents who have been adversely affected by the vaping epidemic that has swept the country over the past year.

What are JUUL E-Cigarettes?

JUUL is the leading e-cigarette brand sold in the United States and JUUL e-cigarettes have become extremely popular as an alternative to conventional cigarettes, due in large part to claims by the manufacturer that “Juuling” is safer than smoking. Also known as “vaping,” using e-cigarette devices has become a big part of teen culture and e-cigarette use among teens and young adults has skyrocketed in recent years. According to a 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, in 2019, more than one-quarter of all high school students had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, compared to only 11% of high school students in 2017.

JUUL Labs has been blamed at least in part for fueling the vaping epidemic in the United States, through the design and marketing of its widely used e-cigarette product. JUUL e-cigarettes are made to look like a USB thumb drive, which makes it easy for teens and young adults to hide the devices from parents, teachers and other adults. The e-cigarettes were also marketed and sold in various candy-like flavors, making them attractive to teens and even non-smokers, many of whom began using the vape pens and subsequently developed severe addictions to the high levels of nicotine contained in the JUUL pods. According to a recent Surgeon’s General report, 85% of e-cigarette users between the ages of 12 and 17 cited appealing flavors as the reason for initiating e-cigarette use.

FDA Issues Warning Letter to JUUL

On September 9, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter to JUUL Labs indicating that there was evidence the company had told school-aged children that its e-cigarette products were safer than conventional cigarettes, a claim that has not been proven. According to the warning letter, a JUUL Labs representative speaking with students at a presentation stated that JUUL e-cigarettes were “totally safe.” The representative also allegedly stated that a student “…should mention JUUL to his [nicotine-addicted] friend…because that’s a safer alternative than smoking cigarettes, and it would be better for the kid to use.” Faced with growing criticism about the safety of its e-cigarette devices and a criminal probe into its marketing activities allegedly directed at children and teens, JUUL Labs recently suspended all advertising in the United States and ceased the sale of all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco, mint and menthol.

Ongoing JUUL E-Cigarette Litigation

Given the common questions of fact and law raised in the ongoing JUUL litigation, the vaping lawsuits filed against JUUL Labs in the federal court system were centralized for coordinated pretrial proceedings last month, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), in the Northern District of California. U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III is presiding over the JUUL cases, all of which involve similar allegations that JUUL Labs manufactured a dangerous product, claimed that the product was “totally safe” and intentionally marketed the product to teens, young adults and non-smokers. In advance of an Initial Status Conference earlier this month, Judge Orrick issued an order explaining his commitment to moving the JUUL cases forward with a “sense of urgency,” underscoring the serious nature of the litigation. “The allegations are very serious and raise significant public health concerns,” Judge Orrick wrote. “My expectation is that all parties share this sense of urgency and will move forward together in a speedy, collaborative, and efficient manner to secure a just resolution of these cases.”

Understanding the Potential Health Risks of E-Cigarette Use

JUUL Labs is accused of almost singlehandedly putting a new generation of young people at risk for nicotine addiction, including middle and high school students, at a time when tobacco use among teens was declining. Although it was previously reported that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, new research indicates that JUUL devices actually deliver nicotine at a much higher rate than most other types of cigarettes and there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that e-cigarette devices like JUUL vape pens present their own potential health risks for users. It is a common misconception that JUUL e-cigarettes do not contain nicotine and that the e-liquid contained in JUUL pens is just harmless water vapor. On the contrary, the aerosol from e-cigarettes can contain harmful chemicals, including nicotine, glycerin or propylene glycol and flavoring such as diacetyl, which has been linked to lung disease. In fact, as of November 2019, there have been more than 1,000 cases of lung illness associated with the use of vaping products, including at least 18 deaths.