ALBANY – New York State has sued e-cigarette giant Juul Labs over what Attorney General Letitia James called a pattern of deceptive marketing designed to lure consumers, especially teenagers, to its products.
The lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan comes after similar legal steps by California on Monday and North Carolina earlier this year.
The New York attorney general said the explosion of teen vaping has been caused, in part, by Juul’s marketing of its e-cigarettes with ad campaigns that she likened to Big Tobacco’s effort over the years to attract underage smokers.
The lawsuit also alleges Juul, a California-based company, illegally sold e-cigarettes to minors in New York through online sales or third-party retailers. New York is seeking financial damages against the company, the nation’s biggest e-cigarette retailer, as well as a halt to marketing about vaping that the state says targets underage New Yorkers.
Juul’s conduct, the suit states, “has resulted in substantial and unreasonable interference with the public health and safety, and the public’s enjoyment of its right not to be defrauded or injured by wrongful conduct.’’
In a written statement, Juul said it has not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but that it is “focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively” with regulators and attorneys general to combat underage vaping. It cited steps the company has taken, including a halt to all advertising in the United States.
“Our customer base is the world 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users," the company said.
The lawsuit Tuesday comes after federal health officials two weeks ago said an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses in states across the nation has likely been caused by the addition of a form of vitamin E into illicit vaping products.
As of last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said 2,172 cases of vaping-related lung injuries have been reported from 49 states – except Alaska – and the District of Columbia and 2 U.S. territories. In addition, 42 deaths have been confirmed.
The lawsuit in New York states that Juul misled consumers by not stating their products contained nicotine and for promoting vaping as a safe alternative to smoking. It says it used advertising techniques designed to lure young consumers, whose ranks of vaping users have soared since Juul began heavily marketing its products in 2015.
“It rolled out (a) sleek and pervasive ad campaign that included bright and colorful images of attractive young people," accompanied by the catchy hip phrase “vaporized,’’ along with accompanying social media hashtags, the suit claims.
Under a state law that went into effect last week, tobacco and e-cigarette sales are banned to consumers under the age of 21. Estimates are that as many as one-third of New York high school students use vaping products.
“By glamorizing vaping, while at the same time downplaying the nicotine found in vaping products, Juul is putting countless New Yorkers at risk," James said in a statement Tuesday.