Jul 11, 2022 - Business

Tulalip Tribes sue e-cigarette giant Juul for ads targeting youth

Illustration of a juul device forming a "no" symbol with a cloud of vapor around it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Tulalip Tribes of Washington have sued e-cigarette giant Juul Labs Inc. (JLI), alleging the company and its affiliates illegally targeted teenagers across the sovereign Indian nation north of Seattle with deceptive ads about the addictiveness of its product.

The latest: The tribes' 316-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle last week, alleges that JLI and its affiliates "adopted the cigarette industry's playbook" to hook a new generation of young tribal members on nicotine.

What they're saying: "Three tactics were central to decades of cigarette industry market dominance: product design to maximize addiction; mass deception; and targeting of youth,” the lawsuit says. "JLI and its co-conspirators adopted and mastered them all."

  • As a result, use of Juul's vaping products "became rampant" among Tulalip tribal youth, with the percentage of 12th graders who reported consuming nicotine nearly doubling between 2017 and 2018, the suit says.

Why it matters: Juul has come under fire in recent years amid a slew of lawsuits, regulatory orders and public health warnings, including the Surgeon General citing a new "epidemic of youth e-cigarette use" that could lead to a "lifetime of nicotine addiction and associated health risks."

Zoom out: The Tribes' lawsuit is similar to a wave of other cases brought by tribal and state governments, school districts and others against the country's largest e-cigarette manufacturer.

  • While some of those cases are pending, several already have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements, including one with Washington state.
  • In April, Juul admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay the state $22.5 million and to make a host of reforms aimed at preventing marketing and sales to minors.

The other side: Representatives for Juul did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment about the lawsuit last Friday.

  • In a statement posted online in April, the company said its settlement with Washington and other states was "another step in our ongoing effort to reset our company and resolve issues from the past."
  • "The terms of the settlement are consistent with our current business practices and past agreements to help combat underage use while offering adult smokers access to our products as they transition away from combustible cigarettes," the statement said.

Details: The Tulalips' complaint cites violations of federal Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations (RICO) laws, alleging Juul and its affiliates perpetuated deceptive marketing schemes across interstate boundaries and into a sovereign tribal nation.

  • To bolster its RICO claims, the suit contains exhibits with multiple colorful ads featuring young people promoting Juul; products that allegedly are similar to cigarette industry marketing and were spread on social media to attract underage customers.

Meanwhile, Juul faces additional regulatory scrutiny.

Of note: The Tulalips' suit noted that, due to "common defendants and overlapping facts," the case "will soon be consolidated" with an ongoing class action in California brought by three other tribes.

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