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Massachusetts Sues JUUL Claiming It Marketed E-Cigarettes To Minors

BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Massachusetts sued electronic cigarette giant Juul Labs Inc. on Wednesday, accusing the company of deliberating targeting young people through its marketing campaigns.

Attorney General Maura Healey's office said the nation's biggest e-cigarette maker is responsible for "creating a youth vaping epidemic" with deceptive advertising tactics designed to lure in teen users.

"Our message today is simple: Juul cant profit off the addiction of young people," Healey said.

Healey announced her investigation into Juul in July 2018 and asked the company to turn over documents to determine whether it was tracking underage use of its products and whether its marketing practices were intentionally driving its popularity among young people.

Similar lawsuits against Juul have been filed in states including Pennsylvania, New York and California.

"Let me be clear -- this is a public health crisis here in Massachusetts and around the country," Healey said.

Juul has said it's committed to combating underage e-cigarette use and has denied ever intentionally targeting teenagers.

"While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes," Austin Finan, a spokesman for Juul, said in an email.

Massachusetts' lawsuit says Juul advertised its products  to underage people by email, purchased ad space on websites intended for kids, such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and recruited young celebrities and social media influencers to star in ads for them.

A Juul ad. (Massachusetts Attorney General's Office)

"It reveals for the very first time internal Juul documents and photographs from its original ad campaign that show exactly what this company was trying to do," Healey said.

Emma Tigerman, 19, said at a news conference Wednesday that she was in eleventh grade when she started vaping.

"When I raised it to my mouth and inhaled the sweet, mango-flavored vapor, it was as if I could feel the claws of the substance embedding themselves," she said. "I found myself beginning to crave the relief of a hit, and if I waited too long in between, I would grow shaky and irritable."

Healey also claims that Juul made thousands of shipments to Massachusetts from online orders without age verification of the person receiving the shipments. She said many of the orders were made with high school email addresses.

She said the company has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Efforts to crack down on teen e-cigarette use ramped up amid a rash of deaths and illnesses linked to some vaping products. Most who got sick said they vaped products containing THC.

As of January, four Massachusetts residents had died of vaping-related illnesses, officials said. The state had reported 36 confirmed cases to federal officials.

Nationally, more than 2,700 cases of vaping illness have been reported by all 50 states. There have been 64 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. government this month began enforcing restrictions on flavored e-cigarettes in an effort to curb use among teens. Menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market.

Juul had already dropped its best-selling mint and most other flavors before the ban was announced in early January and only sells tobacco and menthol.

(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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