Mississippi school district sues maker of e-cigarettes

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FILE – In this Dec. 20, 2018, file photo a woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York. The e-cigarette maker Juul Labs said Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, that it will halt sales of its best-selling mint-flavored vaping pods. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

JACKSON, Miss. — A school district in Mississippi is suing the largest e-cigarette maker in the U.S., saying that Juul Labs is deceptively marketing its products to teenagers and causing young people to become addicted.

The Jefferson County School District filed the lawsuit Dec. 5 in federal court in southern Mississippi. Attorneys are seeking to have it certified as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Mississippi school districts. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money, including some to pay for prevention education and addiction treatment.

The lawsuit is similar to those filed this year by several other states and the District of Columbia. North Carolina became the first state to sue the San Francisco startup in May. School districts in Kansas and Kentucky have also sued Juul.

The Jefferson County School District, in rural southwestern Mississippi, has about 1,200 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Attorneys representing the district in the lawsuit are based in Nashville, Tennessee.

The lawsuit says tobacco use among teens decreased significantly from 2000 to 2017.

“This success has been the result of years of litigation and strict regulation,” the Mississippi lawsuit says. “ It is also due to the widespread and mainstream public health message that smoking kills people — a message that Big Tobacco can no longer dispute or contradict. This incredible progress towards eliminating youth tobacco and nicotine use has now largely been reversed due to e-cigarettes and vaping.”

The Jefferson County School District’s lawsuit also targets Altria, which owns Marlboro and other cigarette brands. Altria owns about one-third of Juul.

Juul launched in 2015 and now controls about two-thirds of the U.S. retail market for e-cigarettes. The company faces separate investigations by Congress, the FDA and other federal regulators.

Juul’s top executives dispute allegations that they market their products to teens, declaring that they’ve taken unprecedented steps to combat underage use of the company’s e-cigarettes. Juul has shut down its Facebook and Instagram pages and pulled several of its flavored products out of retail stores. Juul also backs federal legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 nationwide.

The Associated Press was seeking comment from Juul spokesmen Tuesday about the lawsuit in Mississippi.

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