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(Reuters) – Several deaths and potentially hundreds of illnesses have been tied to e-cigarettes, which allow users to inhale nicotine vapor, often flavored, without smoking. Lawsuits have been filed against e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. and more are expected amid increasing scrutiny.
About 30 lawsuits have been filed over vaping-related injuries in courts around the country, including both individual lawsuits and class actions. The lawsuits target Juul, which controls about 75% of the e-cigarette market. Some have also named Altria Group Inc., which has a minority stake in Juul, as a defendant. Altria is the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris.
The plaintiffs say, among other things, that Juul illegally marketed its products to minors and failed to warn consumers about their dangers, and that the products were defectively designed. Vaping users suffered strokes and seizures and became severely addicted to nicotine, the lawsuits say.
Some of the lawsuits are seeking court orders requiring Juul to change its marketing practices.
Juul said in a statement last week that its products are meant as a less dangerous alternative for adults who already smoke. "We have never marketed to youth and do not want any non-nicotine users to try our products," the company said.
Altria has said that the conduct alleged in the lawsuits occurred before it acquired its financial stake in Juul. “Our minority stake in Juul provides no basis for liability against Altria,” it said in a statement last week.
More lawsuits are expected. Joseph VanZandt, a lawyer with the firm of Beasley Allen, said his firm represents more than 200 clients injured by vaping, of whom only eight have filed lawsuits. “We fully expect that there will be hundreds if not thousands of individual cases filed,” he said.
Many cases are likely to be consolidated in so-called multidistrict litigation before a federal judge. A motion is pending to consolidate federal cases before a judge in Los Angeles. Separately, a motion has been filed in a California state court to consolidate the state court cases.
So far, one state law enforcement official has sued Juul. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said in a lawsuit in May that the company marketed its products to minors and downplayed risks, resulting in an “epidemic” of vaping. He is asking a state court to limit the flavors of Juul e-cigarettes sold in North Carolina and order the company to pay penalties.
Other state attorneys general, along with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, are investigating Juul's marketing practices.
In response to criticism, Juul has pulled some flavors, including mango and cucumber, from retail stores and has changed its advertising to feature models over 35 rather than younger models. However, it has continued to sell menthol and mint flavors, even as U.S. regulators have signaled that they plan to pull all flavored e-cigarettes from shelves.