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Minnesota's $100M lawsuit against e-cigarette makers goes to court

Trial in $100M lawsuit against e-cigarette makers begins
Trial in $100M lawsuit against e-cigarette makers begins 02:02

MINNEAPOLIS -- Trial proceedings began Monday in a $100 million lawsuit by the state of Minnesota against Juul and Altria, makers of e-cigarettes. It's the first time any state has gone to trial against the e-cig companies in this type of case.

Minnesota prosecutors claim aggressive marketing hooked thousands of kids on e-cigarettes. The lawsuit was filed more than two years ago. Thirty-nine other states have settled cases against Juul, but Attorney General Keith Ellison says settling was not an option.

"They deceptively marketed to kids in order to get them on e-cigarettes, using really tricky deceptive practices," he said.

The state cites a 2019 study that found vaping by Minnesota eighth graders had doubled since 2016, and among 11th graders it increased 54%. The state's lawsuit also cites Minnesota's historic win against "Big Tobacco" in 1998. The state won a $6 billion settlement.

The jury trial, before Hennepin County District Judge Laurie Miller, is expected to last about three weeks. That contrasts with nearly four months for the landmark 1998 lawsuit.

Juul argues Minnesota spent only $11 million on youth prevention. A statement from Juul Labs blames Attorney General Ellison for not settling, saying agreements with with other states "providing hundreds of million of dollars to further combat underage use and develop cessation program in those states."

Prospective jurors are expected to be questioned about their own and their loved ones' vaping and tobaccos habits.

The trial is expected to last three weeks. Opening statements are expected Tuesday. Ellison plans to deliver part of the state's opening statement himself before handing it off to attorneys from two outside law firms that are handling the case for Minnesota.

States with litigation still pending against Juul include New York, California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Alaska, Illinois and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia.

Juul, which launched in 2015, became the U.S. vaping market leader on the popularity of flavors like mango, mint and creme brulee. Its rise was fueled by its use among teenagers, some of whom became hooked on Juul's high-nicotine pods. Amid the backlash, Juul dropped all U.S. advertising and discontinued most of its flavors in 2019. Juul has since lost popularity with teens, and its share of the multibillion-dollar market has fallen to about 33% from a high of 75%.

In June, the Food and Drug Administration rejected Juul's application to keep its products on the market as a smoking alternative for adults, though that decision is on appeal. In September, Juul agreed to pay nearly $440 million to settle a two-year investigation by 33 states into its marketing of high-nicotine products.

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