California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Los Angeles County officials sued Juul Labs Inc. in Alameda County Superior Court Monday, alleging that the e-cigarette maker illegally sold its products to underage youth and failed to warn of health risks.
The civil lawsuit seeks a court injunction against San Francisco-based Juul and financial fines and penalties. It alleges Juul "engaged in a systematic campaign to target underage California residents."
That campaign has been "wildly successful, with millions of teens and young adults using their product," resulting in allegedly devastating consequences of youth addiction and health problems, the lawsuit claims.
Juul spokesman Austin Finan said the company had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but said the company is seeking to work with public health and law enforcement officials to combat underage use and to help adult smokers stop using conventional cigarettes.
"Our customer base is the world's 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users," Finan said in a statement.
The lawsuit includes claims of violations of a state law that prohibits sales of e-cigarettes to youth under the age of 21; unfair targeting of youth in its advertising; false and misleading statements promoting Juul as less harmful than conventional cigarettes; and creation of a public nuisance.
It also claims Juul violated the privacy rights of minors under the age of 18 by keeping the email addresses of those who failed the company's age-verification procedure and then sending them marketing emails.
Juul's battery-operated devices heat liquids containing addictive nicotine salts and flavoring to create an inhalable aerosol, sometimes called a vapor. One traditional Juul cartridge, which provides 200 puffs, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, according to the lawsuit.
Inhalation of the aerosol, known as vaping, can cause lung damage in youths and adults and brain damage in youths, the lawsuit says.
As of Nov. 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls has reported 42 deaths, including four in California, and 2,172 cases of lung injury nationwide associated with e-cigarette or vaping product use, according to the lawsuit. It says Juul controls 64 percent of the e-cigarette market.
Becerra was joined in the lawsuit on behalf of the people of California by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and County Counsel Mary Wickham.
Juul has recently been subject to investigations by the Federal Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission and lawsuits by parents and school districts.
Finan noted that as part of its efforts to combat underage use, the company recently stopped accepting orders for mint-flavored cartridges and suspended all broadcast, print, and digital advertising in the U.S. It previously stopped selling four other flavors popular with youths.