Countywide

FCPS settles lawsuit against Juul over its e-cigarette marketing to teens

Altria Group’s headquarters in Richmond (courtesy Altria Group Inc.)

Fairfax County Public Schools will receive money to support student wellness after settling its portion of a class action lawsuit against the vaping company Juul Labs.

The Fairfax County School Board reached a settlement on Aug. 31 with Altria Group, which owns several tobacco companies — including cigarette maker Philip Morris USA — and has a 35% ownership stake in Juul, FCPS announced on Sept. 19. The news was previously reported by DC News Now.

The school system had already agreed to settlements with the other defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed on July 26, 2022 in California and accused Juul of intentionally marketing its flavored, nicotine-based e-cigarettes to a younger audience, fueling a surge in vaping among teens.

Other D.C.-area school systems involved in litigation against Juul include Loudoun, Prince William, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s County, which is using a $2.3 million settlement to combat youth vaping and nicotine addiction, according to the Washington Post.

“We are pleased that there has been an acknowledgment of the potential for harm that these products can cause our students,” School Board chair and Dranesville District representative Elaine Tholen said in a statement. “The settlement will be carefully allocated to support our students’ health and wellbeing.”

According to an FCPS spokesperson, the school system can’t disclose how much money it’ll receive under terms of its settlement agreement, but it will publicly release a plan outlining how the funds will be spent “at a later date.”

FCPS says the funds will be allocated to “student wellness programs across the division.”

Juul didn’t return a request for comment by press time. When contacted by FFXnow, Altria said the FCPS lawsuit was among those addressed in a May announcement that it had agreed to resolve over 6,000 Juul-related cases.

“While we continue to believe the claims against us are meritless, we believe this settlement avoids the uncertainty and expense of a protracted legal process and is in the best interest of our shareholders,” Altria Executive Vice President and general counsel Murray Garnick said. “This settlement brings to a close the vast majority of our pending JUUL-related litigation.”

Launched in 2015, Juul quickly came to dominate the U.S. e-cigarette market by selling flavored pods that became popular among teens, though the company said its products were intended for adult smokers as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

As of 2022, nearly 85% of underage e-cigarette users reported using flavored products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After the Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation in 2018, Juul halted sales of most of its flavored vapes, and it has since settled thousands of lawsuits from individuals, schools, local and state governments, and Native American tribes.

Virginia is receiving $16.1 million over a decade as part of a settlement agreement from last year that involved more than 30 states. Juul also agreed to pay $462 million in April to six states and D.C. that filed a separate lawsuit.

Vaping is banned in FCPS, which reported in 2020 that an uptick in vaping reversed progress in students being drug-free. The school system recently tested vape detection sensors in some school bathrooms, but Superintendent Michelle Reid told the school board in May that the pilot had “mixed results so far.”