TOWSON, MD—Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski on Wednesday announced that the County had filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, alleging that the e-cigarette maker intentionally marketed its products to children and spread deceptive information about its products, contributing to widespread e-cigarette use among young people and a new epidemic of nicotine addiction.
The County alleges that it was forced to divert resources and take action to protect public health, as JUUL Labs marketed its products to young people and exposed them to a host of potential health risks.
“Nicotine and e-cigarette consumption comes with significant, lifelong health risks, and Baltimore County has an obligation to protect the health of our youngest residents,” Olszewski said. “By taking legal action, we are highlighting those health risks – which include impacts to the heart, lungs, and brain – and holding accountable corporations who market these substances to young people.”
According to the lawsuit, JUUL Labs used advertising techniques that have been long-banned for tobacco products, such as using bright, fun themes that attract young people. In addition, JUUL ran advertisements on websites for children, such as Nick Junior and Cartoon Network, and paid young social media influencers to promote the product online.
The use of JUUL products is widespread in schools across the country, with more than five million middle and high school students nationwide reporting current use of e-cigarettes, including more than one in four high school students, according to 2019 data. In addition, the percentage of 12th graders who reported consuming nicotine nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018.
Youth from Baltimore County are also using e-cigarettes at increasingly high rates. Despite the percentage of youth who have tried or currently use cigarettes falling to an all-time low, the percentage of youth in the county who have tried or currently use e-cigarettes has increased dramatically during the same period.
The rise in e-cigarette use has created a public health crisis in Baltimore County, requiring the County to divert a significant and unexpected amounts of time and resources to address.
“Though JUUL Labs have credited their product with curbing tobacco use, they have created a new public health crisis which has created a new generation of people addicted to nicotine – while profiting billions of dollars in the process,” said County Attorney James R. Benjamin, Jr. “As a result, the health of Baltimore County residents has been harmed. In filing this lawsuit, the County is seeking compensation for the damage done to our communities.”
Emerging research suggests that e-cigarettes come with significant health risks, including lung and heart disease, in addition to the harmful side effects of nicotine consumption.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly two-thirds of people aged 15-24 who use JUUL products did not know that the product contained nicotine, an addictive substance that impacts the adolescent brain, which continues developing until around age 25. Adolescent nicotine use can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control, in addition to potentially increasing the risk of addiction in later years.
Nicotine has also been found to increase blood pressure and cause other health impacts.
While research into the effects of e-cigarettes is ongoing, scientists have found that e-cigarette aerosol contains heavy metals, various cancer causing chemicals, and other substances that can be harmful to the lungs in the long-term.
Baltimore County joins a number of state and local jurisdictions from across the United States who have taken legal action against JUUL Labs, including five other Maryland jurisdictions: Montgomery, Howard, Frederick, Garrett and Anne Arundel counties.