Lake County, Ill., State's Attorney sues Juul for targeting teenagers

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. -- The country's largest electronic cigarette maker is being sued in Lake County, Illinois, for allegedly targeting teens in deceptive advertising campaigns and creating a "public health crisis."

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim filed what he called "the first of its kind" lawsuit Tuesday against Juul Labs, claiming the vaping manufacturer used predatory marketing to target youth on social media.

"Just like cigarette companies did in the past, Juul preyed on teens by using advertisements that glamorized their product in order to get kids hooked on nicotine," Nerheim said in a statement.

Juul Labs - which own a 75 percent share of the e-cigarette marketplace - makes e-cigarettes that contain nicotine that is more potent and addictive than in cigarettes, the lawsuit claims.

The suit claims Juul used an online advertising campaign to manipulate adolescents to use its product. On platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Juul allegedly pushed for teens to take pictures of themselves using the product, and then asked the teens to post those photos to social media using the hashtag "Juul."

"It will take years of education and money to right the wrongs and cover the damages caused by Juul's marketing campaigns," Nerheim said. "To that end, the company should be held accountable for the massive expected cost to undo the damage they created... Juul has caused a public health crisis that has already devastated the lives of many children and damaged numerous families."

A spokesperson for Juul Labs said in a statement that the company has never marketed to youth, and that the company exists to help adult smokers switch from traditional cigarettes.

"We have no higher priority than to prevent youth usage of our products which is why we have taken aggressive, industry leading actions to combat youth usage," the spokesperson said.

Juul left Instagram and Facebook following an investigation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration into its ad campaigns.

The lawsuit, filed in Lake County Circuit Court, seeks damages from Juul and a $50,000 fine for each violation of Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

The state's attorney's office has joined several private law firms in Chicago in filing the suit.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire - Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2019.)