CHICAGO -- The Illinois attorney general's office filed a consumer fraud lawsuit Thursday against Juul Labs, alleging the e-cigarette maker targets its product to minors and misrepresents the ability of its devices to help people quit smoking.
Citing epidemic levels of addiction to vaping tobacco products among underage users across the state, Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced the Illinois lawsuit as "one part of a multifaceted" effort to hold Juul accountable for undoing years of progress in reducing youth smoking rates.
The lawsuit against Juul comes amid mounting pressure from health experts, state law enforcement officials and federal regulators over vaping's prevalence among youth, where a recent government survey showed 1 in 4 high school students used e-cigarettes. Consumers must be over 18 to buy and use e-cigarettes.
In November, the attorneys general of New York and California filed similar lawsuits alleging the e-cigarette maker deliberately marketed its vaping products to teenagers.
The Illinois lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges Juul "had a central role in undoing years of work by government agencies and anti-tobacco activists in order to addict a whole new generation to nicotine." While cigarette smoking by high school teens dropped to 5% in 2017, from 36% in 1997, e-cigarette use continues to grow.
"In high schools, even middle schools, they are now referring to the restroom as the vaping room," Raoul said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
Vaping has contributed to a growing national health crisis, with thousands of cases of lung illnesses linked to vaping, mostly using products containing the psychoactive ingredient THC. Regulators are exploring everything from banning flavored e-cigarettes to halting sales entirely.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezik, who spoke at the news conference, said there have been 201 confirmed cases of vaping lung illnesses in Illinois, with the youngest patient 13 years old. There have been five vaping-related deaths in Illinois, Ezik said.
From the sleek e-cigarette device to sweet and fruity flavors masking a higher nicotine content, the product is attractive to youth smokers, the lawsuit says. In addition, the lawsuit alleges Juul was "deceptively marketing" its products to youth on social media.
"While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes," Juul spokesman Austin Finan said in a statement.