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It’s Not a Flash Drive: Vaping News Teachers and Parents Can Use

October 4, 2019

I began my teaching career in 1991. When I think about my contemporary classroom experience and consider my professional world decades ago, I find myself often thinking, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.”

Case in point: Vaping.

Twenty-eight years ago, I never would have imagined that my classroom responsibilities would include actively watching for students to try to inhale concentrated nictotine vapor (laced with other chemicals) using a device at best the size of my index finger– and which easily resembles a flash drive.

This is Juul, the latest in electronic cigarettes. The device operates on a rechargeable battery; it heats up a pod of “juice” that turns into a vapor, ready for inhaling.

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“Juul Starter Kit”/ juul.com

Juul devices can recharge using a computer USB, and since the Juul already resembles a flash drive, it takes a careful eye to discern when a student who is working at a school computer station might also be using that opportunity to charge a Juul.

Vaping in class is as easy as bending over one’s bookbag to ostensibly search for a pencil, or seeming to wipe one’s face with one’s sleeve, or appearing to wipe one’s nose with a tissue.

Chemical inhaled, chemical exhaled. Snap of a finger. Blink of an eye.

What a win for the tobacco industry! Since there is no smoke, only a vapor, imagine how much more teens will use this device, stealthily, in plain sight, in a split second. And the marketing win does not stop there. Vaping devices are being marketed as tobacco product “harm reduction.”

Why, I can even purchase youth-enticing fruit-flavored vaping products– and all I have to do to “prove” I am 21 or “legal smoking age” is click a button on a website prior to making the purchase.

Of course, online sites like Altria (producer of Juul e-vapor devices) offer campaigns against underage use of tobacco and vaping products. However, the big question is whether Juul and others are intentionally marketing their products to underaged buyers.

On October 02, 2019, US District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that a number of suits against Juul Labs, Inc., related to marketing, sales, and product liability of its e-cig, Juul, will be combined and will be heard in the Northern District of California, San Francisco, to be exact– which is where Juul is located, and which is what Juul wanted.

From Judge Vance’s transfer order:

Common defendant Juul Labs, Inc. (JLI) moves under 28 U.S.C. § 1407 to centralize this litigation in the Northern District of California or the District of New Jersey. The
litigation consists of the ten actions listed on the attached Schedule A, five in the Northern District of California, two in the Middle District of Alabama, and one each in the Middle District of Florida, the Southern District of Florida, and the Southern District of New York. The Panel has been notified of more than forty potentially related actions.

The actions in this litigation involve allegations that JLI has marketed its JUUL nicotine deliveryproducts in a manner designed to attract minors, that JLI’s marketing misrepresents or omits that JUUL products are more potent and addictive than cigarettes, that JUUL products are defective and unreasonably dangerous due to their attractiveness to minors, and that JLI promotes nicotine addiction. The actions include both putative class actions and individual personal injury cases. In the briefing to the Panel, a number of responding plaintiffs argued that the Panel should create two MDLs  (Multidistrict litigations) – one for the putative class actions in the Northern District of California, and a second for the individual actions in the District of New Jersey. The plaintiffs who first advocated that position 2 stated at oral argument that they now support centralization of all actions in a single MDL. None of the other plaintiffs who filed briefs in favor of a two-MDL approach presented oral argument. All other responding parties support centralization of all related actions in one MDL, but they disagree on an appropriate transferee district. Suggested districts include the Northern District of California, the Eastern District of Louisiana, the District of Maryland, and the District of New Jersey.

On the basis of the papers filed and the hearing session held, we find that these actions involve common questions of fact, and that centralization – of all actions – in the Northern District of California will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation. These actions share multiple factual issues concerning the development, manufacture, labeling, and marketing of JUUL products, and the alleged risks posed by use of those products. Centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery, the possibility of
inconsistent rulings on class certification… and conserve judicial and party resources.

We select the Northern District of California as the transferee district. JLI is headquartered in that district, and it represents that most of the key evidence and witnesses are located there. Five constituent actions, including the first-filed case, are pending in the Northern District of California, as are several tag-alongs. Judge William H. Orrick III, to whom we assign the litigation, is an experienced transferee judge. He has been presiding over most of the California actions since they were filed and already has ruled on two motions to dismiss. We are confident that he will steer this litigation on a prudent course.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the actions listed on Schedule A and pending outside the Northern District of California are transferred to the Northern District of California, and, with the consent of that court, assigned to the Honorable William H. Orrick III for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.

On October 03, 2019, EdWeek reports additional, potential litigation as two Kansas school districts “have vowed to sue Juul Labs Inc. and other companies in the e-cigarette industry, alleging that vaping is harming their students and disrupting their schools to the point that the districts may recover damages”:

The Goddard and Olathe districts have not filed their lawsuits yet, but resolutions adopted in recent weeks by their school boards authorizing such legal action may be the tip of the iceberg. A Kansas City, Mo., law firm working with both districts is actively recruiting other districts to join the effort. …

The contemplated legal actions bear a resemblance to lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies and others responsible for opioid medications.

And on October 02, 2019, vaping continued to be in the news in New Jersey as its vaping task force released a report offering suggestions on how to confront the issue in the Garden State. A bit from the October 04, 2019, NJ Spotlight:

As concerns continue to mount nationwide about the health effects of vape use, Gov. Phil Murphy outlined a number of regulatory and legislative steps — like banning all flavored products — he believes New Jersey should take to reduce youth access to e-cigarettes.

Several state lawmakers reiterated their support for his key recommendations, which were contained in a report issued Thursday by a task force Murphy impaneled three weeks ago. The report also calls for blocking the sale of clothing that conceals these devices, new regulatory requirements for those that sell e-cigarettes, and a greater public and private collaboration to track and respond to health problems that result.

On October 03, 2019, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) updated its detailed and informative page, entitled, “Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette Use, or Vaping.” Some excerpts:

CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state and local health departments, and other clinical and public health partners are investigating a multistate outbreak of lung injury associated with use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products.  

What We Know

  • As of October 1, 2019, 1,080* lung injury cases associated with using e-cigarette, or vaping, products have been reported to CDC from 48 states and 1 U.S. territory.
  • Eighteen deaths have been confirmed in 15 states.
  • All patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette, or vaping, products.
  • Most patients report a history of using THC-containing products. The latest national and regional findings suggest products containing THC play a role in the outbreak.
  • Approximately 70% of patients are male.
  • Approximately 80% of patients are under 35 years old.
    • 16% of patients are under 18 years old
    • 21% of patients are 18 to 20 years old

What We Don’t Know

  • The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time.
  • No single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases.
    • The outbreak is occurring in the context of a dynamic marketplace for e-cigarette, or vaping, products, which may have a mix of ingredients, complex packaging and supply chains, and include potentially illicit substances.
    • Users may not know what is in their e-cigarette or e-liquid solutions. Many of the products and substances can be modified by suppliers or users. They can be obtained from stores, online retailers, from informal sources (e.g. friends, family members), or “off the street.”
  • More information is needed to know whether one or more e-cigarette or vaping products, substances, or brands is responsible for the outbreak.

The CDC page also offers vaping-related recommendations, key facts, outbreak information (updated weekly), and details on CDC efforts.

On October 04, 2019, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon announced a Temporary ban on flavored vaping products. As Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, Brown’s executive order “lasts for six months and calls for state agencies to develop a plan for warning labels, ingredient disclosures, product safety testing and a campaign to discourage vaping.”

Meanwhile, back at the schoolhouse (and homefront):

In order to better recognize and confront vaping issues on campusand at home, teachers, administrators, other school personnel, and parents would do well to become familiar with vaping devices like Juul.

Knowledge is power.

Don’t be duped into thinking that Juul you just glimpsed is just a flash drive.

This 7 1/2-Minute video about the Juul starter kit might help. (I noticed the video has a disclaimer that it is for ages 18 and over, but, as is true of online sites selling vaping products, no means of enforcement. I also noticed advertisement of the various flavors and even tech support and device guarantee.)

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

4 Comments
  1. Lance Hill permalink

    JUUL owners should be criminally prosecuted. They have addicted another generation to nicotine under the guise of weening off tobacco. This is like during WWII when cigarettes were distributed free to military. When vaping is banned, kids will turn to old-fashioned cigarettes.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Excellent reporting and also concerning that you now have a category “chemicals in the classroom” and that is not about high school chemistry classes. The company is fighting tooth and nail to keep regulators away.

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