Minnesota sues Juul over ads targeting teens as reports of vaping-related injuries swell

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Juul vape
A Juul vape arranged for a photograph in Brooklyn, New York, on July 6, 2018. Gabby Jones / Bloomberg

ST. PAUL — The state of Minnesota on Wednesday, Dec. 4, sued a top e-cigarette company alleging it deliberately marketed in a way that made its products attractive to teens.

State officials announced they would sue e-cigarette company Juul Labs for marketing materials aimed at young people and for misleading advertisements about their products.

At a news conference at the Capitol, Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison said they'd seek damages from the company to fund vaping education campaigns and to repay the state and Minnesotans who'd experienced lung damage or nicotine addiction associated with the products.

The move follows reports that 125 Minnesotans have sustained vaping and e-cigarette related lung injuries and that three people had died from those injuries. Those figures are according to the Minnesota Department of Health. At least three other states — California, New York and North Carolina — have filed similar lawsuits seeking damages from Juul in response to the impact the products have had on teens.

A state survey of Minnesota students found that the number of 11th-grade students who reported vaping in the last month jumped 54% between 2016 and 2019, with one in four 11th graders reporting they had vaped in the last 30 days. And the number of eighth-grade students who reported vaping within the last 30 days nearly doubled within that timeframe.

Walz's administration in reaction to the growing crisis of nicotine addiction among young people who vape has launched a broader public education campaign around the potential dangers of using e-cigarettes and other vaping products. And in October, the DFL governor along with state education and health officials held a series of conversations with students in schools around the state.

And in the run-up to the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have floated ideas to curb the use of e-cigarettes among teens. Legislators have said they'll take up proposals to raise the legal age to buy tobacco and nicotine products to 21, outlaw flavored nicotine products and ban online sales of vaping products.

But some have said lawmakers should wait to outlaw products until the science around vaping-related injuries more clearly explains what has caused lung injuries, and in some cases, deaths associated with e-cigarettes and vaping.

Scientists have yet to confirm what spurs dangerous lung injuries associated with vaping. But recent studies point to a possible connection between the use of illicit THC vaping liquids containing the chemical vitamin E acetate, which is used in some liquids or cartridges to thicken or dilute the products and injuries.

The Minnesota Department of Health last week released a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that 11 of 12 Minnesotans with vaping-related lung injuries used illicit THC cartridges that tested positive for vitamin E acetate. And newer THC vaping products tested consistently contained the synthetic form of vitamin E, the study found, whereas older varieties didn't.

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