The San Diego Unified School District is suing Juul Labs, a giant in the electronic cigarette industry, for the company’s role in fostering vaping among children, saying it’s an alarming phenomenon that has disrupted learning at schools throughout the district.
The district is the latest of several to take legal action against the company. The Los Angeles Unified School District filed a similar lawsuit in October. Districts in Glendale, Compton and Anaheim have also filed suits, along with districts outside the state.
Like those before it, San Diego’s suit seeks unspecified compensation for financial losses suffered as a result of vaping-related absences, the coordination of outreach and education programs about the health risks of vaping and enforcement actions. It also seeks an order telling the company to make amends for its role in the vaping epidemic, which could include the creation of programs to educate potential users about the risks of e-cigarettes, lawyers said.
“Our district is in the business of educating students in a healthy and safe environment,” San Diego Unified Supt. Cindy Marten said in a statement. “This lawsuit supports district goals by holding Juul accountable for its harmful marketing practices and unsafe products.”
A Juul Labs spokesman said the company remains focused on “earning the trust of society” by cooperating with a variety of stakeholders to combat underage use and to help adult smokers transition from cigarettes.
The company recently stopped selling several e-cigarette pod flavors, including mint, and suspended all advertising in the U.S. Critics have contended that some of the company’s flavored pods were especially appealing to young, first-time nicotine users and that Juul’s advertising techniques — which included the hiring of social media influencers — were aimed at teenagers.
“Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers, and we do not intend to attract underage users,” said Juul spokesman Ted Kwong. “To the extent these cases allege otherwise, they are without merit.”
Juul Labs entered the e-cigarette industry in 2015 and now controls more than 70% of the market.
In its court filing, San Diego Unified said Juul has “severely impacted” its schools.
It’s been disruptive to the learning environment because educators and administrators have to spend time and energy on prevention and intervention efforts and the detection of student vaping, the lawsuit claims.
E-cigarette use also affects the student learning process, the lawsuit states. The habit has led to a rise in absenteeism, which has been linked to worsening academic performance and results in less school funding. Much of the revenue a district receives is tied to daily student attendance.
Funding is also increasingly used to combat vaping instead of programs designed to improve student achievement, the lawsuit claims.
“Districts have seen an incredible increase in vaping and e-cigarette use on campus and among students, and it has affected the learning and educational process that’s supposed to be taking place,” said attorney John Fiske, who is representing the district.
In San Diego Unified, about 4% of seventh-graders and 7% of 11th-graders reported they had used vaping devices in the 30 days prior to being surveyed, according to a state study.
Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.