Board votes to join Kansas school districts in lawsuit against JUUL Labs


Katherine Williams

Vaping remains popular among students even as officials are sounding the alarm. Additional health risks are posed by an outbreak associated with vaping.

By Daniel Davidson, Online Editor-in-Chief

The USD 497 school board voted last night to enter a class action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL Labs Inc.

Following months of initiatives aimed at combating teenage vaping, the district decided 6-0 to join the Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. According to a district news release, litigation was intended to recover costs incurred by the rise of student vaping.

“In addition to the health hazards associated with vaping,” the release read, “districts are incurring additional costs related to education, enforcement and monitoring to prevent the use of the devices at school.”

[Because of] youth-targeted product design and marketing, and years of misstatements and ommissions regarding its products, JUUL succeeded in addicting a generation of youth to nicotine

— St. Charles School District in lawsuit

Brad Honnold, chief legal council for the lawsuit, argued to the board that JUUL’s marketing tactics directly targeted youth. Honnold also pointed towards the JUUL device’s sleek design and its method of nicotine delivery as reasons why adolescent use has spiked in recent years.

“This represents not just a public health crisis, but a real crisis effecting our teenagers and youth and students,” Honnold said. “A firewall needs to be created so that today’s middle schoolers don’t become today’s high schoolers and become caught up in this.”

Although several vaping products, such as NJOY and Puff Bars, have contributed to teenage vaping, Honnold argued JUUL allowed other vaping products to proliferate. According to Honnold, the district may withdraw from the suit at any time and will not be charged attorney fees unless money is recovered from the lawsuit.

The school board has raised concerns over vaping during several meetings this year. Sarah Hartsig, Lawrence-Douglas County health promotion specialist, directly presented national and local data on teen use rates as well as the potential health risks.

Since then, electronic cigarettes have been incorporated into freshman health curriculum. Lawrence High also hosted a community presentation about vaping, “Seeing Through the Vapor.”

As electronic vape use has proliferated, cities and states across the country have turned to litigation to recuperate costs. With e-cigarette use a still relatively new phenomena, Hartsig believes the impacts on adolescents are still unfolding.

“The frequency of teens vaping is really skyrocketing now,” Hartsig said. “Because it’s so new, we don’t know all the long term effects… but we know enough to be very concerned.”