Minnesota is now the latest state to sue e-cigarette maker Juul.
In an 82-page complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court on Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison accused the company of consumer fraud, deceptive advertising practices, and negligence.
Juul knowingly employed marketing tactics to attract younger users, Ellison said. For instance, the company sold fruity and dessert-like products, such as mango-flavored e-cigarette pods. (In October, Juul took all those flavors off the market.) The company also paid social media influencers to pose with its products and created hashtags to help spread the message, Ellison noted.
In the complaint, Ellison drew parallels to Minnesota’s landmark $6 billion settlement with big cigarette manufacturers in 1998.
“Juul’s strategies, which Juul internally recognized were ‘eerily similar’ to those implemented by Big Tobacco, were multi-faceted,” Ellison wrote in the complaint. “Realizing that it could not compete with the well-funded e-cigarette manufacturers, Juul turned its marketing eye toward the youth, which it correctly perceived to be a relatively untapped and lucrative market.”
According to an October 2019 survey by the state, vaping has doubled among Minnesota eighth graders since 2016. Among eleventh graders in the state, vaping has grown by 54 percent.
Under Minnesota law, only people over 18 can buy tobacco products, including “electronic delivery devices.” Ellison said that Juul was negligent in verifying customers’ ages online.
“Until at least 2018, Juul regularly allowed customers under the age of 18 to purchase its products online,” the complaint read. “Although Juul knew that its system allowed such purchases, it failed to implement new measures out of fear of creating friction with users and generating negative press.”
Juul now faces hundreds of lawsuits over its advertising practices. Attorneys general in New York, North Carolina, and California have also filed suit against the company.
A Juul spokesperson told the Star Tribune that the company will work with attorneys general, regulators, and public health officials “to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.” The spokesperson said the company hadn’t yet reviewed Minnesota’s complaint