On April 1, the City of Denver filed a lawsuit against JUUL and other major electronic-cigarette companies in U.S. District Court, claiming that the brands intentionally marketed to youth.
“As we battle COVID-19, pulmonary health has never been more important. Sadly, scientific studies indicate the disease could pose a greater risk to young people who have been using the defendants’ harmful products. We are more focused than ever on fulsome abatement strategies combating the youth vaping epidemic. The defendants helped cause it, so they can help us pay for it," Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson says in a statement announcing the suit.
Colorado has one of the highest youth vaping rates in the country.
In the suit, the city charges that the big e-cig companies — JUUL as well as Altria, Eonsmoke and Nu Mark — violated state public-nuisance law by marketing to youth, contributing to a youth vaping epidemic. Colorado law defines a public nuisance as "the doing or failure to do something that injuriously affects the safety, health, or morals of the public or works some substantial annoyance, inconvenience, or injury to the public,” the filing notes.
It asks the court to order the defendants to pay an unspecified amount in damages to the city and also "fund prevention education and addiction treatment."
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Denver's case against the e-cig companies will be consolidated in a federal court in California with dozens of cases filed by plaintiffs across the country. Keller Rohrback is representing Denver and other plaintiffs in the litigation and drafted the complaint for the city; the law firm is also representing Denver and other local governments in litigation against opioid companies.
Much of the Denver complaint repeats claims in other cases. A small portion, however, includes city-specific allegations. For example, it states, "In order to combat the public health crisis caused by Defendants’ conduct, [the city of Denver] spent significant and unexpected levels of time and resources on addressing the pervasiveness of youth use of vaping products."
In particular, the suit says, the city has stepped up enforcement at retail shops selling vaping devices and has also spent time and resources on developing a new law raising the minimum tobacco-purchasing age to 21, and requiring that stores be licensed with the city. (While President Donald Trump recently raised the tobacco- purchasing age to 21, Colorado lawmakers have been delayed in their attempts to do so on a statewide basis because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The complaint also highlights vaping problems at Denver high schools. "Vaping has become highly disruptive to [Denver Public Schools] operations, as [the district] has had to respond to many disciplinary issues and confiscate hundreds of vape devices from its students," it asserts.
Both the city and DPS have been challenged by determining how to properly dispose of confiscated vape devices, since Denver doesn't have a "central repository for public disposal of hazardous waste," the complaint notes. "Therefore, while Plaintiff has been working tirelessly to address the youth vaping crisis, more resources are needed to fully counter Defendants’ conduct."
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JUUL, which has already pulled its flavored products from shelves across the country, is also the focus of an investigation by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, to determine if the company engaged in deceptive marketing practices to hook youth. That investigation is still ongoing.
The Trump administration has also cracked down on flavored pods, a product in which JUUL originally specialized, but stopped short of banning flavored e-cig juice for devices that require manual insertion.
Here's the full Denver complaint: