The Orangeburg County School District has entered into a class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul Labs.
In joining the lawsuit, the school district cited the "addictive nature of vaping," "the potential for serious health problems" and other consequences for students. The district also cited the impact on schools in addressing disciplinary and addiction issues.
The lawsuit is also against "other responsible companies," though the names of other companies were not disclosed.
OCSD trustees unanimously voted to join the suit on March 23. There was no public discussion about the lawsuit beyond the vote. The school district said it did not have specific data on student e-cigarette usage or the cost impact of the e-cigarette usage on the district.
OCSD will retain Halligan Mahoney and Williams, Solomon Law Group LLC and Frazier PLC on a contingency fee basis. This means attorneys will be awarded a percentage of any settlement amount, as applicable.
Halligan Mahoney and Williams attorney Connie P. Jackson said the complaint has not been filed as of yet.
The Solomon Law Group LLC said the complaint will be filed most likely "in a couple of weeks."
Juul has said it has been proactive in reducing underage vaping.
“We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, legislators, regulators, public health officials and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes," a Juul company spokesman said. "As part of that process, the company reduced its product portfolio, halted television, print and digital product advertising, and submitted a Premarket Tobacco Product Application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration including comprehensive scientific evidence to support the harm-reduction potential of its products and data-driven measures to address underage use."
"Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers," the statement said. "We will respond to the allegations through the appropriate legal channels.”
OCSD has joined over 100 others across the country in suing the northern California-based company.
Other school districts in the state are in the lawsuit against the company, including Lexington School District 1, Charleston County School District and Greenville County Schools.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 21% of South Carolina high school students use tobacco products. The most used tobacco products among all students are e-cigarettes, and high-schoolers report using Juul more than any other brand.
The lawsuit comes after years of scrutiny surrounding Juul, which has come under fire for allegedly targeting teens with sleek designs and fruity flavors.
The company also has marketed its products as a “satisfying alternative to cigarettes,” even though they contain nicotine and expose the lungs to dicetyl, which can cause bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung).
The company has defended its product in past public statements.
In September 2019, after growing criticism and a new CEO, Juul Labs announced that it was suspending all advertising in the U.S. The company also suspended the sale of non-tobacco, non-menthol-based flavors (mango, creme, fruit and cucumber) in the U.S.
"As we evaluate what products to submit for Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA), we will continue to develop scientific evidence to support the use of these flavored products, coupled with strict measures to combat underage use, as we believe these products can play an important role in helping adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes," the company said in an October 2019 press release.
The company has also pledged support for Tobacco 21 legislation that would raise the minimum age of e-cigarette use to 21. Currently the age is 18.
The U.S. and Food and Drug Administration in its 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey notes that e-cigarette usage among high school and middle-school students has continued on a downward trend from 2019 to 2020.