Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Recent News
Home / All News / E-cigarette case heads to court
a young man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette
Minnesota alleges that Juul developed devices and flavors specifically designed to appeal to young people and used marketing to lure and addict young people. In this Oct. 18, 2019, photo, a young man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette in Minneapolis. (AP file photo: Jim Mone)

E-cigarette case heads to court

Alleging harm to youth, Minnesota first to bring Juul to trial

Juul Labs — a company that manufactures e-cigarettes — is finally being brought to trial by a state that has sued it. Minnesota will be the first state to bring Juul to trial.

Minnesota alleges that Juul developed devices and flavors specifically designed to appeal to young people and used marketing to lure and addict young people. The Minnesota Department of Health has reported that tobacco use dramatically rose among Minnesota Youth after Juul products were in the state. Minnesota also claims that Juul turned a blind eye to children purchasing and using e-cigarettes.

“Since 2000, the state invested millions of dollars and hours in comprehensive efforts to reduce youth tobacco use by providing education that works, and keep Minnesota kids free from the addiction and harmful health consequences of tobacco use,” Attorney General Keith Ellison noted in an email statement. “And those efforts worked. We saw a massive decline in tobacco use by our youth. We knew that our kids and our communities were getting healthier. When that progress was reversed and gains were erased when Juul entered the market, we saw our kids being exploited and our hard-earned progress eroded.”

In 2019, Ellison announced that Minnesota would sue Juul. Minnesota argued that Juul breached a duty of reasonable care, created a public nuisance, and violated many consumer protection laws. Minnesota seeks civil penalties, monetary relief, and the end of youth marketing of e-cigarettes.

Altria was added as a defendant in December 2020 after the state amended its complaint. Previously, Altria told the FDA that it was removing its own e-cigarette products from the market, citing the effects on youth. Altria acquired 35% of Juul for $12.8 billion. Minnesota alleges that Altria helped market and promote Juul products, vastly extending Juul’s reach in Minnesota.

Juul has faced thousands of lawsuits from across the country. It settled over 5,000 lawsuits brought by 10,000 plaintiffs in California in December 2022. That settlement was reportedly between $1.2 and $1.7 billion. It has also settled with Arizona ($14.5 million), North Carolina ($40 million), Washington state ($22.5 million), and several other states.

However, Minnesota is the first state actually going to trial.

“In nationwide cases, like opioids or Juul, some states choose to coordinate efforts with other states. This is sometimes done when a state doesn’t have the necessary resources to litigate a matter or where the harm to the state doesn’t justify the investment,” Ellison stated. “Some states, including Minnesota, took on the legal challenge against Juul and Altria individually. The facts of the case, the conduct the defendants engaged in, and most critically, the targets of their deception – our kids – made it a case that some states knew they had to take on individually. Minnesota was the nation’s leader in the tobacco litigation and has been a leader in tobacco prevention.”

Ellison says that there is an importance to being the first to take the companies to trial. “By being the first state to go to trial, you are getting to write on a blank slate,” Ellison explained. “You have the opportunity to communicate to the public the full story behind a case that might have made headlines, but where the facts aren’t as well known. We believe it’s important to Minnesotans that we tell the facts behind the youth vaping epidemic, that we expose the decisions and actions Juul and Altria took, and that these two companies face accountability for their violations of Minnesota law and for the harm they did to our kids.”

On March 14, 2023, Hennepin County District Judge Laurie J. Miller rejected the defendants’ attempts to dismiss or weaken Minnesota’s claims. Judge Miller denied Juul’s request to dismiss the claim that Juul created a public nuisance. “Minnesota precedent establishes a more expansive range for public nuisance claims than the narrow range defined in other states by the courts relied upon by Defendants,” Miller wrote. Furthermore, the court determined it would be up to a jury to decide whether Altria is liable for injury that Minnesota is claiming. Tobacco science expert Dr. Kurt Ribisl reported that Altria was “very aware” that youth were enamored with Juul.

“The public nuisance claim is a longstanding legal principle that has been held – and protected — by sovereigns for centuries to address wrongdoing that has expansive harms, particularly involving health, morals, and drugs,” Ellison avowed. “It’s a unique remedy that addresses unique harms. But it’s also a right that is persistently challenged by companies, like Juul,  who want to avoid accountability for broad-ranging harms caused by their misconduct.”

“In the Court’s rejection of Juul’s efforts to dismiss the public nuisance claims, it affirmed that Juul was looking at the wrong state laws to support its arguments.  In doing so, the Court affirmed the scope of Minnesota’s nuisance law,” Ellison stated. “The court’s rejection of Juul’s efforts to dismiss the public nuisance claim was important for the case and the state’s ability to recover, but it was equally important as a defense of a critical Minnesota right.”

“Holding Juul and Altria accountable for the harms they caused will give our kids a chance to regain the progress we had all made in reducing youth tobacco use and help our kids avoid decades of addiction and the range of health consequences of tobacco and nicotine use,” Ellison stated.

A Juul company spokesman issued a statement to Minnesota Lawyer: “Juul Labs has reached settlements with 39 other states and territories, resolving issues from the past while providing hundreds of millions of dollars to further combat underage use and develop cessation programs in those states. We have and continue to seek a similar settlement with the state of Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is determined to go to trial led by an outside law firm, incurring significant costs to the taxpayers and judicial system. At trial we will present a vigorous defense and show that the state’s claims do not stand up as matters of facts and law.

“Effective interventions to address underage use of all tobacco products in Minnesota, including vapor, depends not on headline-driven trials, but on evidence-based policies, programs, and enforcement. This is the approach that Juul Labs supports and has been part of implementing — leading to more than a 50% decline in underage use of vapor products generally and a 95% decline in use of JUUL products from 2019 to 2022 based on the National Youth Tobacco Survey.”

Jury selection for the trial begins on March 27, 2023. The trial is slated to go for three weeks. It will conclude by April 14, 2023.




Juul reaches settlements covering more than 5,000 cases

Juul Labs settles with 33 states over teen vaping

Leave a Reply