The attorney general’s office in North Carolina state has filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc, piling more pressure on the biggest e-cigarette maker in the United States that is already under intense scrutiny for its products’ usage among teenagers.
Josh Stein, the first state attorney general to sue Juul, said on Wednesday that the company’s targeted marketing towards youth, while downplaying the potential harm its products can cause, resulted in an “epidemic” of vaping among minors.
Stein announced an investigation into Juul last October looking into its marketing practices and retail partners.
Juul’s e-cigarettes resemble USB flash drives and work by vaporising a nicotine-laced liquid.
Stein said he shared information from his investigation with other states and would not be surprised if they followed North Carolina’s lead.
A Juul spokesperson told Reuters news agency that the company had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but has been cooperating with Stein’s office. The Associated Press news agency quoted a spokesperson for Juul Labs as saying that the company was also concerned about youth vaping and was already working to reduce the practice.
Juul, in which Marlboro maker Altria Group has a 35 percent stake, has already pulled popular flavours such as mango and cucumber from retail store shelves. It has also shut down its social media channels on Instagram and Facebook.
Stein said he was requesting the North Carolina State Court to require Juul to limit the flavours sold in the state and delete customer data for those below 18. He also requested Juul pay civil penalties.
E-cigarette makers are already under pressure from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which laid out plans in March to clamp down on the use of the popular nicotine devices among teens.
A federal judge in Washington, DC handed down a ruling on Wednesday saying that the agency shirked its legal duty when it postponed reviewing all US vaping products by several years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other groups filed the federal lawsuit in Maryland last year. The groups say the lack of FDA oversight has led to an explosion in underage vaping by teenagers, threatening to hook a generation of US citizens on nicotine.