Attorney General Keith Ellison and Gov. Tim Walz announced during a joint press conference Wednesday that Minnesota has filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, the vaping giant that controls an estimated 75 percent of the e-cigarette market.
The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, accuses JUUL of defrauding consumers, using deceptive marketing practices, making false statements in advertisements, creating a public nuisance, and benefiting from unjust enrichment.
“My job is to protect Minnesotans from deceptive, fraudulent, and unlawful practices, and to protect their health and safety. It’s especially important for me to protect our young folks from deception and harm. I’m bringing a lawsuit against JUUL today because it has created a public nuisance that is centered around deceiving, addicting, and harming our young people,” said Ellison, who received a round of applause when announcing the lawsuit.
The complaint describes how JUUL developed products with “higher, more potent, and more addictive doses of nicotine” than conventional cigarettes, but then failed to disclose this information to its consumers while marketing its products as a safe alternative.
It also accuses JUUL of “targeting youth” through a “highly effective youth-oriented marketing campaign” that “closely follows the Big Tobacco marketing playbook of decades past.” As evidence, the complaint points to JUUL’s “sleek looking products and sweet, popular flavors.”
The complaint also asserts that JUUL was negligent in its duty under to Minnesota law to correctly verify its customers’ ages and “turned a blind eye” to underage use.
“In Minnesota, we have a special duty to take on this fight,” Ellison added. “Twenty years ago, we led the nation in taking on Big Tobacco. Now JUUL has stepped in to deceive consumers just like Big Tobacco did and has taken it to a whole new level. We’re not going to stand by while this company tries to deceive and addict a whole new generation of our youth.”
Gov. Walz, who has been conducting vaping listening sessions at high schools across the state, said students are telling him “they feel preyed upon by JUUL.”
“As a father of two teenagers and Governor of Minnesota, I’m saying enough is enough. We’re going to hold JUUL accountable for the vaping epidemic they started in Minnesota,” he continued.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare JUUL responsible for creating a public nuisance in Minnesota and violating the state’s consumer protection statutes.
The complaint asks the court for a number of other remedies, including:
- Order JUUL to permanently stop its deceptive conduct in Minnesota, including marketing to youth;
- Order JUUL to fund a corrective public education campaign in Minnesota about the dangers of youth vaping;
- Order JUUL to fund clinical vaping cessation programs in Minnesota, including programs appropriate for youth;
- Order JUUL to take affirmative steps to prevent the sale of its products to children;
- Order JUUL to disclose all its research relating to vaping and health;
- Award monetary relief for the great harm and injury JUUL has caused in Minnesota;
- Award civil penalties, investigatory fees, expert witness fees, and attorneys’ fees for violations of Minnesota’s consumer-protection laws;
- Reimburse Minnesota for all its expenditures, since JUUL’s inception, related to controlling e-cigarette use among Minnesota’s youth; and
- Order JUUL to disgorge all payments it received from its unlawful conduct.
The Attorney General’s Office has hired two firms, Robbins Kaplan LLP and Zimmerman Reed LLP, as outside counsel for the lawsuit. According to MPR News, if the case lasts longer than six months, the two firms will get 25 percent of the first $10 million in awards.
New York, California, and North Carolina have filed similar lawsuits against JUUL for “deceptive and misleading” marketing.
Watch the press conference below:
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