Settlement with e-cigarette company JUUL makes NJ teens safer, state’s attorney general says


New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin says he’s glad a lawsuit by his state is helping change “the behavior of a company that put kids at risk all across our country.”

Platkin spoke with Gothamist a few days after 32 states and Puerto Rico announced a collective $435 million settlement with e-cigarette maker JUUL. If the terms are approved by a Mercer County Superior Court, New Jersey will receive nearly $34 million from the settlement by 2027.

“It may go up a little bit if JUUL takes longer to pay,” Platkin said. The first installment would be due by the end of this year.

The settlement comes after a two-year investigation that Platkin said “focused primarily on JUUL’s really horrendous conduct as it relates to the targeting of youth.”

In addition to the financial terms, the agreement will force JUUL Labs to comply “with a number of strict terms that will severely limit their marketing and sales practices.”

New Jersey and other states have long maintained that JUUL targeted young people with its advertising and flavors “known to be attractive to underage users.” They targeted young people “relentlessly,” he said, noting that JUUL specifically tailored “the products themselves to encourage youth to use them in a way that was dangerous.”

And the practices continued, Platkin said, in spite of the fact that the company’s vaping products are illegal for New Jersey minors to purchase.

In addition, Platkin said JUUL “misrepresented that its product was a smoking-cessation device, without FDA approval.”

In June of this year, the Food and Drug Administration announced “marketing denial orders” to JUUL Labs for the company’s products sold in the U.S. In July, the FDA said the policy warranted “additional review” after a U.S. federal appeals court stayed the agency’s ban.

“I’m glad the FDA is stepping in,” Platkin said.

The JUUL advertisements Platkin found particularly egregious were those featuring “trendy and younger looking models,” he said. He also cited the company’s launch parties and social media posts as directly targeting young people.

“I think what we’ve shown, through this case and through the many other cases, is that JUUL’s conduct violated our laws,” he said.

Platkin alleges JUUL marketed products to young people that contained nicotine, and hid that fact from them.

“They designed their products in ways that kids could literally fit them in their pockets easier,” he said. It was a concerted effort, he maintained, to direct product marketing toward children “who were using these products, and using them in ways that made them unsafe.”

Platkin cited a 2022 study conducted by Rutgers University that found “one in ten high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes within the past 20 days.” It was a pattern, he said, that is “consistent with nicotine use.”

Most alarmingly, Platkin said, the rates of JUUL usage were higher among Black children.

“We do know it had an impact,” he said.

Still, Platkin is hopeful that the settlement can help change things for the better for New Jersey youth. He maintains that when the state holds “corporate actors like JUUL accountable,” the money recovered can benefit “those harmed in ways that ultimately [help] ensure that those harms don’t occur again.”

Also this week, JUUL Labs announced settlements in more than 5,000 cases between the company and individual e-cigarette users, their families, school districts, Native American tribes and others. Platkin said he believed the goal in those cases was “to hold a corporate actor accountable for the harms that they were causing to the youth in our states.”

JUUL’s future is unclear. It announced hundreds of layoffs last month, and analysts have speculated it could soon declare bankruptcy. The Associated Press reported in November that JUUL had secured financing from two early investors to continue operations.

The company had already adjusted some practices amid the several investigations into its tactics — ending U.S. advertising in 2019, and ceasing the sales of some sweetly flavored cigarettes under pressure from the FDA the prior year. An American Journal of Public Health study found users just switched to other flavors, or other brands.

In a statement released this week, the company said settling the thousands of lawsuits, brought by about 10,000 plaintiffs, “represent a major step toward strengthening JUUL Labs’ operations and securing the company’s path forward to fulfill its mission to transition adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes while combating underage use.”

The company also cited the states’ lawsuits, saying at the time those talks continued. It hasn’t issued an updated statement regarding the final terms.

But the company said the recent steps were taken to “stabilize its business operations and address past legal issues.”

Platkin, though, said he doesn’t think the future is very bright for JUUL.

The attorney general compared the investigation and litigation against JUUL to the lawsuit he and a number of other New Jersey agencies filed earlier this year against big oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute, for what Platkin described as “their deception in lying to New Jerseyans about the impact their products had in causing climate change.” He argued those entities engaged in a “multi-decade long effort to confuse and distract the public from the real causes of climate change.” It’s an effort, he said, that prevents “our shift to a clean energy economy.”

Representatives of oil and gas companies told Gothamist in November the suits were a waste of taxpayer money that doesn’t do anything meaningful to combat climate change.

New Jersey, Platkin asserted, is particularly susceptible to the ravaging effects of climate change. The state is significantly at risk from “a whole host of climate impacts,” he said.

Citing recent hurricane and tropical storm damage to the region, he said he hopes the litigation will force big oil industries to “stop lying about the impact of their products on climate change, and once and for all end their deception which continues to this day.”

In that case, Platkin wouldn’t speculate on potential financial rewards for the state, saying any figure would be determined “through the course of litigation.” But, he added, “we’ll seek every penny we can.”


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