North Sound school district sues e-cigarette maker

LA CONNER, Wash. -- The La Conner School District filed suit against both JUUL and Altria, a tobacco company with a major stake in the e-cigarette company.

The district superintendent says too many of their resources are being spent away from teaching and, instead, dealing with kids who are vaping.

“Our kids matter,” said Whitney Meissner, superintendent of the La Conner School District. “Our kids are being targeted just like every other school group is being targeted.”

Meissner says a recent student survey of 12th-grade students shows a dramatic increase in the number of kids in the district using e-cigarettes. And she believes it's having a negative impact on the learning environment.

“We don’t want it in the hands of our students, we don’t want it in our schools,” she said. “That’s the number one thing that we think will keep our kids and health in our district.”

The suit complains the manufacturer is also targeting advertising to kids. The district claims the devices are taking away time intended for learning.

“We are in the process of calculating what the cost to our district has been just to react to JUUL in school,” said Meissner.

Plus, a survey of even younger students showed that the number of 6th-grade students using e-cigarettes has jumped alarmingly. While smoking cigarettes can sometimes be easier to spot, kids using e-cigarettes is often much easier to hide.

“It’s very easy for kids to hide what they’re doing and hide the devices,” said Meissner.

The lawsuit demands a jury to determine the financial damages to the district, including requiring JUUL to pay for education and prevention programs.

A JUUL spokesperson shared this statement with Q13 News:

We need to urgently address underage use of vapor products and earn the trust of regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders. That is why we are focusing on taking aggressive actions to reduce the access and appeal of our products, working through the PMTA process and supporting and complying with FDA’s final guidance on flavored products once effective.

When K.C. Crosthwaite joined JUUL Labs as CEO last month, he said: “I have long believed in a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose alternative products like JUUL. That has been this company’s mission since it was founded, and it has taken great strides in that direction. Unfortunately, today that future is at risk due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry. Against that backdrop, we must strive to work with regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders, and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate. That includes inviting an open dialogue, listening to others and being responsive to their concerns.

Meanwhile, district officials insist kids in the small district are becoming addicted to nicotine using an unregulated device.

“We’ve been listening very carefully to our students and parents about concerns they have in regards to the use of devices like JUUL on our campus: in the bathrooms in particular, that it’s making kids feel unsafe,” said Meissner. “They’re being tempted to use them themselves.”