USD 333 authorizes suit against Juul
Concordia Unified School District 333 is joining the growing list of school districts in Kansas in taking legal action against the Juul Laboratories, the maker of the most popular electronic cigarettes in the United States.
Following a presentation by Eric Barton with the law firm of Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP, and a 15-minute executive session for attorney-client privilege, the Unified School District 333 board of education passed a e-cigarette and vaping products resolution during its regular meeting on Monday night.
The resolution authorizes the law firm of Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP to initiate litigation and file suit against any appropriate parties to compensate the district for damages suffered by the district and its students as a result of the manufacture, marketing, sale and use of electronic cigarettes and vaping products, and to seek any other appropriate relief.
The resolution also authorizes superintendent of schools, Quentin Breese, to sign all appropriate documents and fee agreements on behalf of the district.
“I assume I am going to have some pretty significant costs come up,” Breese said of the impact of what is being called a vaping epidemic.
Breese said he believes the legal action will be filed on behalf of USD 333.
“I am not a big fan of litigation at all,” Breese said, “They (e-cigarette makers) directly targeting the teens is really what got me.”
It is stated in the resolution that USD 333 has and continues to experience significant problems with student use of Juul e-cigarettes, which use, among other things, has created a substantial and ongoing interruption of and disturbance to its educational mission; has resulted in the diversion of substantial resources in an attempt to abate and prevent such use; and poses a significant risk to the health and well-being of its students.
Barton, during his presentation, informed the members of the board that his firm is pursuing, on behalf of school districts across the country, legal action against the manufacturers and sellers of electronic cigarettes and vaping products.
“This litigation, it is happening. There have been school districts that have now filed, but only a couple. This is the beginning of a wave of school districts like yours that are interested in being proactive on this issue and are experiencing problems with vaping in your high school and middle schools,” Barton said.
During his presentation, Barton said that usage as measured by Centers for Disease Control, is 27 percent, with e-cigarettes being 20.8 percent of that.
“In the last few years, the rise of e-cigarettes, predominantly by Juul, has gotten tobacco use and nicotine use by high school students back to 1976 levels,” Barton said.
Scott Gotlieb, the former commissioner for the United States Food and Drug Administration, has concluded that teen use of e-cigarettes “is now an addiction crisis” and an “epidemic.” He identified Juul Labs as having primary responsibility for the epidemic.
A national survey of youth found that nearly one in five middle school and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 has seen a Juul e-cigarette used in school.
According to the information provided to the board by Barton, JUUl deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children, targeted teenagers and children, as young as eight-years-old, in summer camps and out of school programs, and recruited thousands of online “influencers” to target teens.
“JUUL really did what the iPhone did, it took a device and made it really attractive to people,” Barton said.
Barton said that those who studied internal documents of Juul as part of an investigation found the company was deliberately targeting underage users.
“There are economic damages to schools because of this,” Barton said.
Barton represents clients in complex commercial litigation and class actions. He represented dozens of county and city governments in Kansas, Missouri, Virginia, Florida and Mississippi in lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medications seeking recoveries of damages arising from the nationwide opioid addiction crisis.
In other action taken during the meeting, the board approved a resolution authorizing the refinancing of a portion of the district’s outstanding Series 2013 general obligation bonds.
Refinancing the bonds will lower the interest rate from 4.27 percent to 2.43 percent.
Breese said that would result in a savings of $379,000 for the district.
A $5.5 bond issue was passed by voters in the district in the fall of 2013 to construct, equip and furnish a FEMA approved safe shelter at the Concordia Elementary School, replace the HVAC systems at the elementary school and fund energy efficiency improvements throughout the district.
The board approved a proposal for vehicle and property liability insurance.