The Cache County School District will be joining over 450 school districts across the county in litigation efforts alleging Juul Labs and other vaping companies downplayed health risks and marketed toward minors.
CCSD will be represented by Kirton McConkie, the law firm currently representing 30 out of 41 school districts in Utah who are a part of the class-action lawsuit.
According to Kirk McRae, the human resources director of CCSD, the decision to join the litigation efforts was made back in September. If the settlement is won, the school districts involved can receive an approximate cumulative $10 billion.
“I think it’s a trend that, like others, waxes and wanes,” McRae said. “We are not immune from the effects of the vaping impact. There’s no question about that.”
McRae presented information on behalf of Joel Wright from Kirton McConkie at the Oct. 3 school board meeting.
“This is a long process,” McRae said. “We don’t know when this will reach a resolution.”
Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes has yet to pursue litigation on behalf of the schools. If this were to happen, Kirton McConkie would have to relinquish the case because the entire state would then be involved.
McRae told the school board that he believes this settlement will end similarly to litigation efforts against tobacco companies. In 1998, the attorneys general of 46 states joined to seek damages against tobacco companies for false advertising and downplaying health effects.
“I think this will result in some recognition by those companies and some resources for the school district to use toward mitigation and education efforts, including vaping detectors and other physical facilities that could be useful in detecting and preventing vaping,” he said.
CCSD currently teaches about the dangers of vaping in the seventh and ninth grade, and the state of Utah is in the process of building it into elementary lessons as well. CCSD policies have also been updated to add vaping in the same category as tobacco products.
“When vaping first started, it came out with information that it was going to be a lot safer than just regular tobacco,” said Board Vice President Kathy Christiansan. “Which it is not.”
Utah gathers data on vaping at schools through its SHARP Survey, given to middle and high school students to measure substance abuse, antisocial behavior and potential factors predicting problem behaviors. The most recent survey in 2019 found roughly 21.6% of high school seniors in the Bear River District had vaped, while 11.6% reported vaping within the last month.
The litigation attributed flavored vaping products to the rise of adolescent vaping over the years. In 2020, former President Donald Trump effectively banned fruit-, mint and dessert flavored pods from stores. Additionally he also raised the legal purchasing age for tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.
This lawsuit rides on the coattails of North Carolina v. JUUL in which the company settled to pay $40 million and agreed to change marketing in the state.
If no settlement is reached for this lawsuit, a trial will begin in March 2022. Juul Labs has failed to dismiss the lawsuit after several attempts.