Steamboat school district joins class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School Board voted unanimously to join a class-action lawsuit against JUUL Labs, the manufacturer of popular vaping devices.
The litigation, explained William Shinoff at the June 1 meeting, is an attempt to hold the company accountable for the “vaping epidemic that has been created on campuses across the country.”
Shinoff said his firm, Frantz Law Group, represents 80 other districts nationwide.
One JUUL pod contains approximately the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes — making its nicotine content one of the highest among e-cigarettes on the market.
According to heart.org, in addition to being highly addictive, nicotine can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, flow of blood to the heart and a narrowing of the arteries. Nicotine also may contribute to the hardening of the arterial walls, which in turn, may lead to a heart attack.
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There is also evidence tying nicotine to oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer and damage to developing brains.
Between 2011 and 2015, e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students increased 900%, according to Shinoff’s presentation.
Between 2017 and 2018, the number of youth e-cigarette users increased by 1.5 million.
Shinoff noted Colorado has some of the highest numbers in terms of national studies and surveys related to teen vaping, and resort communities within Colorado have the highest numbers in the state.
He said the districts will file cases locally, and then those cases will be transferred to federal court in San Francisco to be litigated all together.
“What we are trying to obtain for your district are the resources necessary to properly move forward” in addressing the problem, Shinoff said.
Specifically, he said any funds awarded could be used to install vaping detectors in school bathrooms as well as provide educational programming. Shinoff said school bathrooms have become the most popular place for students to vape.
The cost to install a device in a bathroom is approximately $5,000, he said, which includes the detection device, Wi-Fi connectivity and a camera outside the bathroom to determine who set it off.
Shinoff said early educational efforts — especially starting in middle school — are showing to be effective in reducing the number of kids who vape. And the intent is to provide money that will support those educational programs for 10 to 15 years, he said.
The lawsuit also mentions the financial harm suffered by districts in terms of resources devoted to disciplinary and counseling issues around vaping, as well as vaping-related illnesses and students missing school.
Districts face challenges in enforcing policies related to vaping, according to Shinoff, due to “the discreet appearance of the product, difficulty pinpointing the vapor or scent and the addictive nature of the product.”
Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks noted that school staff are frequently confiscating a wide variety of different devices used by students for vaping.
In addition to the monetary component of the litigation, Shinoff noted its “social justice aspect.”
The goal, he described, is to get an injunction to prevent JUUL from selling the flavored pods. He noted the company is under investigation in regards to fraudulent advertising and targeting kids, and he added that where JUUL has been banned from selling the company has admitted to trying to re-enter the market because it is so profitable.
Shinoff said the lawsuit would require minimal time from district staff, and there is no cost for to the district to be involved. He said the law firm operates on a 20% contingency if the lawsuit is resolved within a year and 25% if resolution takes more than a year.
Shinoff said he recently made presentations to the school districts in Montrose and Telluride and that the Boulder district has signed on.
He said more defendants are being identified, including retailers and other vape pen manufacturers, though JUUL represents 84% of the market, which makes the company the primary target of the lawsuit.
In 2017, JUUL generated over $224 million in retail sales, a 621% year-over-year increase, according to Shinoff’s presentation. By June 2018, sales had skyrocketed another 783%, reaching $942.6 million.
Meeks said he saw no reason the district should not move forward with the lawsuit..
“There is no to little risk involved, and the impact of JUUL and vaping is very evident in our district,” Meeks said.
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