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Youth Vaping Epidemic: JUUL Labs on the Hook

Thu, 06/20/2024 - 19:20

Suffolk nets nearly $9 million of state lawsuit haul

Infographic by Stella Brecker. Source: CDC.gov

Last Thursday, as the culmination of a lawsuit that began in 2019, New York State Attorney General Letitia James distributed New York’s share of a historic multistate settlement secured from JUUL Labs Inc. for its role in the youth vaping epidemic. The total settlement is $462 million, with New York State getting a $112.7 million share that will be split by every county in the state, with Suffolk County to receive more than $8.8 million and Nassau County to receive more than $7.5 million.

According to a press release from the Southampton School District, after JUUL was launched in 2015, the use of e-cigarettes by high school students in the state skyrocketed. “By 2019, the proliferation of vaping led to a national outbreak of severe vaping-related illnesses, with more than 2,500 hospitalizations” in 2019, the release said.

In her lawsuit, Attorney General James argued successfully that JUUL misled and misrepresented its product to consumers on several fronts — including the nicotine content, and asserting that the product was safer than cigarettes — and also failed to prevent minors from buying the products in stores across the country.

The settlement money will be put to use by counties and the Boards of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) to pay for vaping education, enforcement, and research programs.

“Vaping” is the common term for the inhalation of a vaporized liquid from a battery-powered device. JUUL devices are small and look much like a computer USB; they are easily concealed. According to the American Lung Association, JUULs are the most popular form of e-cigarettes or “vapes,” and “one JUUL pod may contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.” Vaping has become a thorny problem for educators here on the East End, as elsewhere in the country — in particular, how to stop students from doing it.

“I and many of my colleagues have learned that intervention, prevention, and therapeutic measures are much more effective in addressing student addiction and mental health issues than punitive actions,” said Brian Zahn, the principal of Southampton High School, in the school’s press release, “I have seen directly that nicotine addiction caused by vape devices takes no prisoners and impacts everyone across all demographic groups.”

The settlement is being applauded by Erin Kennedy of East Hampton, who, while a student at East Hampton High School, co-founded an organization called Breathe in Change to combat student vaping. “The youth vaping epidemic is a public health crisis manufactured to harm young people,” Ms. Kennedy said in the release. “This settlement is a great achievement, and will help provide Long Island youth with access to resources to better their physical and mental health.”

In an email, Adam Fine, the superintendent of East Hampton School District, said he believes that the JUUL settlement is a step in the right direction, but not the end of the battle. “I am pleased with the settlement, but in my mind it does not go far enough,” he said. “Vaping has kidnapped a generation of young students. Years ago we overcame student cigarette use only to be hit by vaping.” 

In addition to paying out the settlement money to New York State, the JUUL company will be forced to change its sales strategies and refrain “from any marketing that targets youth, including using anyone under the age of 35 in promotional material or funding, operating youth education/prevention campaigns, or sponsoring school related activities.” There will be limits on how many can be bought (online or in stores) and mandatory compliance checks at 5 percent of stores that sell JUUL products in New York State for at least four years.

 

 


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