KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A federal lawsuit in Missouri claims an e-cigarette company targeted young people to sell its products, causing a rash of health issues.
Mindy Boyd, a Clay County resident, sued JUUL Labs on Monday on behalf of her teenage daughter. The lawsuit said Boyd's daughter began using JUUL's vapor smoking products at 14 years old. She now spends half of her paycheck on those products, the lawsuit said, and has caused several health issues, like frequent headaches, irritability and anxiety.
The lawsuit accused JUUL Labs, based in San Francisco, designed its e-cigarette to look familiar to young people, particularly teenagers. The USB stick design "resembled a device commonly found at schools and in backpacks across the country," the lawsuit said, and were small enough for students to potentially conceal them.
The lawsuit also claims that studies have shown JUUL's vapor products contain 6 percent nicotine, one percent higher than its patent information portrays.
The lawsuit said JUUL focused its marketing efforts on young people through social media and "influencers" on YouTube and Instagram to promote it. A study from Stanford University said the company's marketing campaign was "patently youth oriented" and that the company's assertion that it improves the lives of adult smokers "has not been congruent with its marketing practices over its first 3 years."
JUUL spokesperson ted Kwong told ABC 17 News that the company has never marketed its products to young people.
"This suit largely copies and pastes unfounded allegations previously raised in other lawsuits which we have been actively contesting for over a year," Kwong said. "Like the prior cases that this one copies, it is without merit and we will defend our mission throughout the process."
The lawsuit comes six days after Missouri health officials advised health care providers of 94 cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping. While no cases have been found yet in Missouri, the department warned people, particularly young people, that experience unexplained chest pain or difficulty breathing shortly after vaping to contact health professionals.
Missouri Poison Control has received 600 calls related to e-cigarettes in the last 10 years, according to the advisory, and managed 30 cases of breathing problems in the last five years.