On June 17, the Ogden School District joined more than 300 others across the country in a class action lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul Labs.
The Provo City School District also joined the case at its June 22 board meeting. Both districts voted unanimously to enter the class.
Currently, they are the only two districts in Utah to have signed the national lawsuit – although an attorney for the law firm Kirton McConkie said in a written statement on July 13 that they expected d other school districts in the state are also joining.
âThe goal of vaping and Juul, the stated goal, was to help people switch from smoking to something less harmful. But in the state of Utah, twice as many children under 18 vape as adults. It was unfortunately a huge hit with the illegal and underage crowd, âsaid Joel Wright of Kirton McConkie in his presentation to the Ogden School Board.
The case has been filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and is presided over by Federal Judge William H. Orrick, and the trial is scheduled to begin in March 2022. Juul had previously requested that the case be dismissed, this that was refused. by the judge in October 2020.
The lawsuit is being conducted by the Frantz Law Group in California, although the Utah districts are also represented in the case by Kirton McConkie of Salt Lake City. Joining the lawsuit poses no financial risk to school districts, according to William Shinoff of Frantz Law Group.
When asked by Provo school board member Jennifer Partridge if there were any potential risks in joining the lawsuit, Shinoff called the three to five hours it would take to complete the questionnaire as a potential inconvenience, noting that the weather is also an opportunity for members. of the school district to be better informed about Juul and the matter.
According to OSD business administrator Zane Woolstenhume, the decision to take legal action was straightforward.
“The Ogden School District Education Council has joined this class action lawsuit because vaping (is) a growing problem and concern in the district,” he wrote in an email. to the Standard-Examiner. “By joining the class action lawsuit, we hope to attract greater public awareness of the issue and, assuming the action is successful, use any product thereof to install more vaping detection systems in the areas. schools (then) provide other supports to alleviate the associated problems. “
At the June 3 meeting of the Ogden School Board at which the lawsuit was discussed, the then Chief High School Officer and current Superintendent Luke Rasmussen briefed the Board of Trustees of the state of vaping in Ogden schools and efforts by administrators to end the practice in schools. Rasmussen called it a “constant problem that administrators face.”
Board member Arlene Anderson asked the rest of the board if there should be a district policy on what to do when students have vaping devices on school grounds. Wright responded that, according to state law, devices can be confiscated by teachers and administrators.
Juul, recognizable for its sleek designs, has become the fastest company to reach a $ 10 billion valuation, according to Wright. He added that the company has more than 60% of the market and that 97% of vaping done by minors is done with flavored pods like mango or crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e.
Membership of the class action lawsuit was discussed for the Provo school district at its board meeting on June 8. The hearing included an explanation of vaping presented to the board of directors and information about its specific health risks. Shinoff, the lawyer who runs the course, told board members that Juul does not fully educate customers about the nicotine content of its products. He alleges that each Juul pod is the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes.
âThis is a $ 10 billion plus business that is not paying for the damage it causes. It is a chance for this school district, and the others, to get the resources they need to have vaping detectors, counselors and other resources to help slow down and – as much as possible – stop this epidemic. growing, âsaid Rod Andreason, an attorney for Kirton McConkie, in his presentation to the school board.
Vaping detectors were specifically mentioned by Shinoff at the Provo school board. The goal would be to get the devices from $ 3,000 to $ 5,000 in classrooms, bathrooms and hallways. They work by detecting chemical changes in the air. School districts across the country have used vaping detectors with varying degrees of success, according to Wired.
In the 2019 SHARP survey conducted by the Utah Department of Social Services, approximately 16% of Utah grade 12 students reported having engaged in vaping in the past 30 days. About 2.3% of students in the same class reported smoking cigarettes.
Prosecution lawyers will be remunerated on the basis of contingency fees. According to Andreason, payment would be made to Frantz Law Group and other attorneys on any potential recovery. “If nothing is collected, nothing is paid,” he said.
In April, Judge Orrick authorized the addition of RICO claims in the current lawsuit against Juul. RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, has been used in criminal and civil trials to increase penalties against defendants. Juul is partially owned by Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, which was found liable under the RICO Act in 2006 for concealing the health risks of smoking.
The company did not respond to a specific request for comment, but included a statement regarding the use of the products by minors on its website.
âNo one under the age of majority should use JUUL products or nicotine in any form. Data in the United States shows unacceptable rates of use of our products by minors. We strive to reverse this trend by focusing on restricting access to our products and limiting the attractiveness of our products. “
Shinoff told the Ogden School Board that he expects the class to almost quadruple by the end of the summer.
Towards the end of the lawyers’ presentation, Nancy Blair, a member of the Ogden school board, told her colleagues about discussions with her granddaughters about the efforts students put in to vape in the classroom – from hiding pens to vaping in their sleeves at the push of clouds of vapor under their desks. .
âI was just stunned. They said, ‘No, it happens every day, every class,’ âshe said. “We have a problem.”
You can reach the journalist Harrison Epstein at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @harrisonepstein.