LA CONNER — The La Conner School District has filed suit against the makers of an e-cigarette it claims have used deceptive practices to target their products toward children.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, lists the district as the plaintiff against JUUL Labs Inc., Nu Mark LLC, and the Altria Group Inc. for their roles in the increased use of “vaping products” among youth.
“But for the defendants’ actions, JUUL use by minors would not be as widespread as it is today, and the vaping public health epidemic that currently exists as a result of the defendants’ conduct would have been averted,” the lawsuit, filed by the Seattle-based law firm Keller Rohrback, states. “Defendants have engaged in conduct which endangers or injures the health and safety of the employees and students of La Conner School District and (the state).”
According to the lawsuit, youth vaping among Skagit County eighth graders is higher than the state average. During the past two years, the suit states, use among high school sophomores has increased from 11% to 18% and among high school seniors from 18% to 29%.
“At the end of the day, it really comes down to the health and safety of our kids,” La Conner School District Superintendent Whitney Meissner told the Skagit Valley Herald. “We want to get these out of our schools. We want our kids to be healthy so they can learn.”
Meissner said the often flavored and colorfully packaged products are deceptive, often looking like pens or flash drives.
Because the liquid used in the devices is unregulated, there is no way to tell what is actually in the product, she said.
“They’re using our children as guinea pigs,” she said. “And that’s not OK.”
The district has had to spend resources to create curriculum that discusses the dangers of the products, as well as having to use more administrative and security time to enforce the district’s no vaping policies, the lawsuit states.
“Such rampant JUUL use has effectively added another category to teachers’ and school administrators’ job descriptions,” the suit states. “Many now receive special training to respond to the various problems that JUUL use presents both in and out of the classroom.”
Middle school students, the suit states, are increasingly asking high school students to purchase vaping products for them before January, when a new state law raising the vaping age to 21 goes into effect.
On Sept. 27, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the state Department of Health to ban all flavored vaping products, saying “...e-cigarette use among youth has reached epidemic proportions and this epidemic presents a clear and present danger.”
While there is no cost to the school district for filing the lawsuit, the district could stand to benefit from damages that occur as a result of the suit, Meissner said.
In January 2018, the La Conner School District was one of three in Skagit County that signed on to a countywide lawsuit against several large pharmaceutical companies citing their role in the opioid epidemic.
Through participation in both lawsuits, Meissner said she hopes the conversation about vaping products gets started, especially at home.
“That’s where I think this problem will really be solved,” she said.
Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman, whose district also signed onto the countywide opioid lawsuit, said that if approached that district would consider joining the vaping suit.
“We consider vaping an epidemic,” Brockman said. “People are dying. Kids are dying. We’re trying to deal with it at the school, just like everyone else is.”