North Carolina’s attorney general has filed eight new lawsuits targeting e-cigarette companies, alleging that the makers have helped “fuel a vaping epidemic among students.”
Josh Stein made the announcement ahead of the first day of school in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday.
Stein claims the companies “unlawfully entice young people to become addicted to their harmful products.”
“Our complaints allege that these eight e-cig companies are helping to fuel an epidemic of vaping among high school and middle school students,” he said.
“One look at their marketing materials demonstrates just how egregious their sales tactics are — with flavours like cotton candy, gummy bear, unicorn and graham cracker, they’re clearly targeting young people.”
The companies Stein is after include Beard Vape, Direct eLiquid, Electric Lotus, Electric Tobacconist, Eonsmoke, Juice Man, Tinted Brew and VapeCo, according to CNN.
It is the attorney general’s latest attempt to stop underage e-cigarette sales to young people.
Stein is the first state attorney general to take the maker of Juul to court, filing a lawsuit against the company in May. He also announced an investigation last year into Juul’s sales and marketing.
Juul, with its high-nicotine flavoured pods, has quickly grown to dominate the U.S. vaping market.
Juul is being investigated by members of Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and state attorneys general amid allegations that its early marketing overtly targeted teenagers. Since the product’s launch, the portion of high school students using e-cigarettes has mushroomed to 20 per cent, according to U.S. survey figures released last year.
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Stein’s lawsuit comes on the heels of what officials say is the first death linked to vaping in the U.S. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, a 17-year-old died after being hospitalized with a severe respiratory illness.
The death, which was reported last week, is among a growing number of lung illnesses in the U.S. that could be connected to e-cigarettes. At this time, Health Canada says it has no evidence of any similar illnesses related to vaping but that it is monitoring the situation carefully.
Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the U.S., even though smoking rates have been declining for decades. Approximately 14 per cent of U.S. adults smoke, according to government figures. That’s down from the more than 40 per cent of adults who smoked in the mid-1960s.
On a global level, smoking is blamed for some seven million deaths. More than 20 per cent of the world’s population smoked in 2015, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization. That figure was down nearly seven per cent from 2000.
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Stein’s lawsuit comes as two major cigarette production companies, Philip Morris International and Altria Group, are in talks to merge in an effort to pool resources and capitalize on the fast-growing e-cigarette market.
Altria has a roughly $13-billion (35 per cent) stake in Juul, betting on more smokers switching to electronic cigarettes.
The merger has the potential to super-charge Juul’s efforts to expand overseas, bolstered by the global marketing power of Philip Morris. The cash infusion from Altria could also help the new company ramp up marketing of a collaborative project, the IQOS device, in the U.S. and overseas.
Earlier this year, Altria estimated annual U.S. cigarette volumes would decline between four and six per cent through 2023, sending company shares down sharply.
— With files from Global News