Crime & Courts

Johnson County man sues e-cigarette company, saying he was tricked by marketing

A Johnson County man has filed a federal lawsuit against a major electronic cigarette company, Juul, alleging the company’s marketing strategy is misleading and has led to widespread substance abuse among young people.

According to the suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for Kansas, Isaac Gant began vaping with a Juul four years ago when he was an 18-year-old high school senior.

The colorful advertising, which Gant says drew him to the product, did not disclose the existence or amount of nicotine in the product, according to the suit.

As a teen, Gant said, the only thing he knew about the product was that he liked the taste of the fruit flavored vapor.

Four years later, the suit says, Gant is addicted to nicotine, has suffered respiratory problems, has been exposed to harmful chemicals, and is prone to bouts of anxiety because of his use of a Juul.

Had he known he would experience these side affects, the suit says, Gant never would have purchased the product in the first place.

Juul issued a statement Tuesday saying the lawsuit was unfounded.

“This suit largely copies and pastes unfounded allegations previously raised in other lawsuits which we have been actively contesting for over a year,” the statement said. “This case is without merit and we will defend our mission throughout this process.”

It added that the company has stopped selling fruit flavored pods in traditional retail stores, closed its Facebook and Twitter accounts and is working to impose further restrictions keeping underage consumers from purchasing their product.

Gant is suing the company for, he says, designing and selling a product that leads to addiction and negative health consequences for consumers.

“We believe that Juul marketed this product particularly to teenagers and did not disclose the existence of nicotine in it or the fact that it’s addictive,” Jerry Schlichter, one of Gant’s attorneys, told The Star.

The lawsuit accuses Juul of modeling its advertising on that of cigarette companies.

The advertising, the suit says, employs bright colors and photos of attractive young people in order to draw in a younger demographic.

Juul advertisements did not include nicotine warnings until it was required to in 2018, according to the suit.

It says the company has falsely presented its product as a safe alternative to cigarettes.

The suit mirrors similar lawsuits filed in other states. Last month a Missouri mother filed a lawsuit alleging the company “developed a marketing strategy” that targeted unsuspecting teenagers.

Last week, Kansas reported its first death from a vaping-related lung disease. Deaths have been reported in California, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois and Oregon.

Hundreds of cases of the illness have been reported nationwide.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.