By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two public school districts on Monday sued Juul Labs Inc, accusing the company of endangering their students and draining their resources by marketing its addictive e-cigarettes to teenagers.
The St. Charles, Missouri, and Olathe, Kansas, public school systems appeared to be the first school districts to join the rising wave of litigation against Juul.
Juul did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As a result of “youth-targeted product design and marketing, and years of misstatements and omissions regarding its products, Juul succeeded in addicting a generation of youth to nicotine,” the St. Charles district said in its lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in St. Louis.
The Olathe district, which sued Juul in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, similarly accused the company of creating a nationwide “epidemic of vaping” and said it had been “forced to expend significant resources combating this public nuisance.”
Both districts, which are represented by some of the same lawyers, have accused Juul of gross negligence, public nuisance and of violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal law originally passed to target organized crime that also allows civil lawsuits.
They are seeking unspecified money damages.
The schools’ claims come amid a regulatory crackdown on e-cigarettes and a growing number of lawsuits by young adults and parents of teenagers against Juul and, in some cases, its parent company, Marlboro maker Altria Group.
Most of the lawsuits say only that users became addicted to nicotine as a result of using Juul, but some allege serious health consequences.
Some states, including New York, Michigan and Rhode Island, have moved to restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Massachusetts has gone further, instituting a four-month ban on all vaping products.
On Friday, a New York judge blocked a state ban on most flavored e-cigarettes from taking effect after an industry group sued to challenge it, while a Massachusetts judge upheld that state’s ban.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York)