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Butler Area joins JUUL, tobacco lawsuit

A high school student uses a vaping device near a school in Cambridge, Mass. Butler Area School District is joining a national lawsuit against JUUL Labs and tobacco companies for allegedly targeting children with marketing campaigns.
Companies allegedly target children

Butler Area School District is the latest school district to join a national lawsuit against JUUL Labs Inc. and tobacco companies for allegedly targeting children with marketing campaigns for their products.

The school board unanimously voted Monday night to join the lawsuit against the California-based maker of JUUL e-cigarettes.

“This is another societal issue we have to deal with. Vaping is as much or more of a health risk as cigarettes,” said Al Vavro, president of the Butler Area School Board. “We're trying to do what's right for kids. That's our responsibility.”

District solicitor Tom King, of Dillon McCandless King Coulter & Graham in Butler, said a 2019 survey of district students revealed widespread use of e-cigarettes. He added the board will join the suit to seek compensation for disruptions to education, creating an anti-vaping program and possibly buying vapor detectors to detect e-cigarette vapors, which normal smoke detectors cannot.

“Nearly 50 percent of Butler Area students by 12th grade have engaged in vaping in some sort or another,” he said. “We all know the health ramifications of smoking and vaping. The ramifications to school districts are tremendous.”

The survey shows that some elementary school students use e-cigarettes, he said.

Company marketing campaigns have reversed the positive outcome of school smoking cessation programs, King added.

Defendants named in the suit include Altria, a conglomerate that owns tobacco companies Philip Morris USA and Nu Mark LLC, and JUUL.

“They all have engaged in a conspiracy to market tobacco products to minors,” King said.

The suit was initiated by the Frantz Law Group of San Diego. Frantz will consolidate the cases and file them in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, which handles suits filed from multiple federal districts.

King said Frantz asked his law firm to assist Pennsylvania school districts in joining the suit. He said four districts from eastern Pennsylvania have already sued the companies and those suits have been forwarded to Frantz.School districts joining the suit will not pay legal fees up front, but will have to pay fees to Frantz if money damages are recovered and Frantz will cover school district solicitor fees, King said.He said he anticipates the first case will come to trial in July 2021, but it will be up to a judge to determine which case will be the first.The suit doesn't seek a specific amount of damages, but King said the smallest districts in the suit could seek $500,000. The statute of limitations to file suit is the end of the year, he said.The suit is not part of a lawsuit state Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed against JUUL in February. That suit alleges violations of the state's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and claims JUUL is jeopardizing the health of residents, especially young people JUUL targeted through advertising. The lawsuit calls for JUUL to cease sales of its products in Pennsylvania.Shapiro's suit alleges JUUL violated the law by strategically targeting young people with “kid-friendly” flavors, chemically enhancing the amounts of nicotine and its absorption rate in the products and rushing to market before providing proof of the safety of the product. The complaint also alleges the company is liable for not disclosing the health risks of JUUL products.

Juul products are displayed at a smoke shop in New York.