Juul Labs, the maker of popular e-cigarettes, has been subjected to hundreds of lawsuits from states, cities, counties, school districts, and Native American tribes, as well as consumer rights class actions and personal injury cases. This litigation has been based on a variety of claims, including deceptive and misleading marketing practices, misrepresentations about nicotine content and product safety, and the company’s negligence in preventing underage sales. Many other government entities, such as cities, counties, and Tribes, also filed lawsuits against Juul and these cases were all consolidated into a single federal court in Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). On October 2, 2019, the District Court of Northern California was designated to hear all cases emerging nationwide against Juul on the claims. Although many Juul cases have been settled, other cases are still in litigation.
Why it Matters for Public Health
Youth use of e-cigarettes—also known as use of an electronic smoking device or electronic nicotine device system, and commonly called vaping—significantly increased between 2016 and 2017. Numerous providers of flavored e-liquids emerged with products that could work with e-cigarettes. The 2019 to 2020 rise in lung injuries resulting from e-cigarette use—known as E-cigarette or Vaping Associated Lung Injury or “EVALI”—brought renewed attention to the youth vaping epidemic and spurred regulatory oversight.
In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deemed e-cigarettes and their accessories, including flavored e-liquids, to fall within the scope of its regulatory review, but it allowed products on the market to remain available pending submission of premarket tobacco product applications (PMTAs). The FDA evaluates PMTAs based on a public health standard that considers the risks and benefits of the product on the population as a whole. Continued inaction on enforcement and postponement of the PMTA deadline led to public health groups filing suit against the FDA to compel regulatory action (see American Academy of Pediatrics v. FDA (2018)). In 2020, the FDA closed the window for all on-market products to have a PMTA submitted and a year later began issuing authorization and marketing denial orders.
Beginning in 2017, youth consumption of e-cigarettes significantly increased, driven in part by Juul’s marketing of flavored e-liquid pods, delivered through the company’s devices. Juul’s devices were more portable and concealable than other e-cigarettes, and the company heavily used social media platforms to market its products. By mid-2019, Juul was a defendant in ten lawsuits in five circuits, with plaintiffs ranging from individuals to school districts that argued that 1) Juul had intentionally marketed its products to attract minors, 2) Juul’s marketing misrepresented or omitted information that its products were more potent and addictive than tobacco cigarettes, 3) its products were defective and unreasonably dangerous because they were so attractive to minors, and 4) Juul had promoted nicotine addiction.
Juul filed a request to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to establish multidistrict litigation for the many individual and class action cases filed against Juul (along with other defendants, such as Altria). Multidistrict litigation is a court practice in which a court combines similar tort cases that are not otherwise combined through class action certification. Some of the combined cases may themselves be certified class actions. In an MDL, the individual cases still proceed, but for purposes of efficiency, the court selects several “bellwether” cases to act as exemplars for the cases overall. MDLs are often used in personal injury cases stemming from similar facts and claims but involving different plaintiffs.
On October 2, 2019, the Judicial Panel designated the District Court of Northern California to hear the Juul cases (In Re: Juul Labs, Inc., Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation).
Since the MDL was created, it has grown to include almost 3,000 cases. Judge William Orrick, presiding in the District Court of Northern California, established a complex apparatus for the parties to work through to determine the bellwether cases, and to issue complaints and replies. In December of 2022, after several years of contentious litigation, the parties involved announced four global settlements in all cases within the MDL where Juul was named as a defendant. The MDL settlements with Juul, totaling approximately $255 million, will directly compensate the thousands of plaintiffs and plaintiff entities involved in the cases.
In the meantime, in parallel litigation, state attorneys general reached several settlement agreements with Juul to address claims related to the company’s marketing and sales practices, consumer fraud, negligence, and nuisance. As of June of 2023, 48 states, territories, and the District of Columbia have reached litigation settlements with Juul, amounting to over $1.1 billion. Visit our interactive map for an overview of these settlements.