SAN FRANCISCO—On Monday, April 24, a lawyer representing the San Francisco Public School System announced that they are suing Altria Group Inc. claiming that the tobacco company helped Juul Labs Inc, an e-cigarette company, create a crisis of vaping addiction among teenagers.
Thomas Cartmell, who is the lawyer representing the school district, told jurors in San Francisco’s federal court:
“This case is about Altria, the largest cigarette company in our country, who helped hook a whole new generation of our young people on nicotine, causing a vaping crisis, a youth epidemic.”
The school district now has to spend time dealing with rampant vaping in school and the district is demanding that Altria pay for the costs to handle the vaping problem.
Cartmell claims that Altria was “at the heart” of Juul’s strategy to expand its business by appealing to teens with sweet flavors and flashy advertising. Altria was Juul’s largest investor from 2018 until 2023. According to Cartmell, Altria made a large investment in Juul after a failed attempt of trying to market its own e-cigarettes and was aware that Juul’s success was driven by marketing to young people.
Juul’s e-cigarette has a “high-tech” look that was designed a specific way to be “marketed to appeal to the young, cool, popular crowd,” and “packed with nicotine,” Cartmell added.
Altria denied any wrongdoing and claims that it had little control over Juul. The company is facing thousands of similar cases from individuals, local governments, and states. According to reports, the school district’s lawsuit was chosen to go to trial as a test case.
Beth Wilkinson, a lawyer representing Altria, told the jury in her opening statement that the company aimed to boost its sales among cigarette smokers seeking a less harmful option, not among teens.
“You can’t forget about those smokers,” she said. “If you can get smokers away from cigarettes, it’s a worthy cause,” Wilkinson said. There currently isn’t enough research to show if e-cigarettes are safer than regular tobacco.
The second lawsuit involving Juul is expected to go to trial. Juul settled most of the lawsuits against them and has paid more than $1 billion to 48 states. $1.7 billion has been paid out to individuals and local governments.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nicotine is a highly addictive substance and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s. Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
The San Francisco News reached out to the San Francisco School District for a statement but did not hear back before print.