Attorney General Andrea Campbell joined her counterparts from several other states and Washington D.C. Wednesday to announce a groundbreaking $462 million settlement with Juul over the company’s role in the youth nicotine vaping crisis. Of that sum, $41 million will go to Massachusetts to fund programs to combat youth nicotine addiction, including treatment programs and prevention services.
“Today marks the next chapter to hold this company accountable for their wrongdoing,” Campbell said during a news conference Wednesday. “Juul is the most significant player in the vaping industry, and this investigation has helped us go after other bad actors to stop this epidemic once and for all.”
The settlement bans the company from directly or indirectly targeting children and teenagers in its marketing, or portraying anyone under the age of 35 in its promotional materials. Additionally, Juul cannot finance or operate youth education and prevention programs.
In Massachusetts, Campbell announced Wednesday that, in addition to existing sales restrictions, Juul will be prohibited from participating in free giveaways and sponsorships, and will also undergo unannounced compliance checks to ensure it adheres to state regulations.
The agreement announced Wednesday resolves a lawsuit brought by six states — New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Colorado — and the District of Columbia. The settlement money was divided among the states in proportion to the number of young residents in each state determined to be addicted to vaping products. Juul will pay California close to $176 million, Illinois more than $67 million, and the District of Columbia roughly $15 million. New York will receive more than $112 million over an eight-year period, including a payment of $14 million in the next three months.
The payments will mark Juul’s largest multi-state settlement to date, after the vaping giant agreed to pay $438.5 million to more than 30 states last September. In that settlement, Juul did not acknowledge any wrongdoing but said it was trying to “resolve issues from the past,” according to The New York Times.
In January, the company also obtained preliminary approval for a $255 million settlement with consumers in California, part of a larger effort to resolve thousands of lawsuits brought by school districts, local governments, and individuals that could cost Juul upwards of $1.6 billion, according to an estimate by the Wall Street Journal.
Vapes, or electronic cigarettes, have remained a point of contention since they first gained widespread popularity in Massachusetts, a state that has been at the forefront of cracking down on them after early research pointed to a host of public health concerns. The Massachusetts attorney general’s office was the first in the country to launch an investigation into Juul in 2018, Campbell said.
“Make no mistake, Juul’s targeting of young people rolled back decades of progress in combating underage tobacco and nicotine use and has led to a nationwide public health crisis for young people all across this country,” Campbell said. “Here in Massachusetts, we’ve strengthened our laws... to ensure that no company can again use Juul’s playbook to entice our young people to use these addictive and harmful products.”
After an explosion of vaping-related illnesses in 2019, former governor Charlie Baker ordered a four-month ban on all vaping products, declaring a public health emergency. At the time, vaping products were tied to at least nine deaths and 530 lung illness cases nationwide, while cases in Massachusetts were multiplying each week.
However, two months later the state’s highest court ruled that the governor could not unilaterally ban vape sales, and the products returned to the market in December 2019 with some restrictions. Today, all flavored nicotine vaping products are banned in Massachusetts, while products with more than 35 milligrams per milliliter of nicotine can only be sold in smoking bars and licensed adult-only tobacco stores. Menthol cigarettes and flavored chewing tobacco are similarly restricted to on-site consumption at smoking bars. Unflavored vaping products can be sold in convenience stores and gas stations, but with a 75 percent excise tax that went into effect in 2020.
In 2022, roughly 1 in 7 high school students and 1 in 30 middle school students reported that they had used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also reported that e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among youth since 2014; Juul launched its first e-cigarette in 2015.
At the livestreamed news conference, attorneys general from across the country blasted Juul for its marketing tactics that investigators concluded targeted young people. New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office organized the news conference, said “there is no doubt that Juul played a central role in the youth vaping epidemic [and]... is paying for the widespread harm it caused.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta similarly criticized Juul for putting corporate profits before the public health of children.
“Our nation spent decades trying to reign in youth smoking rates, only to have it spike up after Juul emerged on the scene,” Bonta said. But, he added, “if you set your sights on our children, we will set our sights on you.”