COLUMBIA A Midlands school district has become the first in South Carolina to join a class action lawsuit against vape maker Juul, alleging that the district has suffered further disruption in the discipline of e-cigarettes.
Lexington School District 1, which serves much of the county’s geographic area, filed a lawsuit on October 2, joining districts across the country, as well as municipalities and individuals suing Juul.
Juul started an assembly plant in Lexington County last year to make electronic cigarettes, a project that is expected to employ around 500 people.
Since then, Juul has scaled back its operations amid increasing regulation and scrutiny of its practices.
In September, Juul began its second round of company-wide layoffs, with nearly half of its employees considered for layoffs, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company has some of its work at assembly plants like the one in Lexington County done by employees of subsidiaries, not Juul.
A visit to the factory on Wednesday revealed that almost no workers were on site. The plant is located near the Columbia Metro Airport, which locates it in another school district, Lexington 2.
Juul has not commented on the status of the plant.
Earlier this year, South Carolina joined 39 other states in an investigation into Juul’s marketing practices to determine whether the sales and marketing practices of the San Francisco-based company were responsible for a massive increase in the use of vaping products by adolescents.
In its lawsuit, District 1 alleges that Juul promoted a potentially addictive product for teens, including the now discontinued use of enticing flavors to create a new generation of nicotine users.
The case is pending in federal court in California, where Juul is based.
The lawsuit reports that disciplinary dismissals for vaping in the district more than doubled in the space of one school year, from 147 to 358 in 2018-19.
Juul’s design means the devices are sometimes used during class and leaves hazardous waste behind for the district to manage, according to the lawsuit.
In response, Juul reiterated the company’s message he had shared over the past year: this is a product intended only for adults to help them quit smoking regularly, and Juul has changed its product lines and its marketing to adhere to this goal.
“Our customer base is one billion adult smokers worldwide,” the company said in a statement. “We will respond to the allegations of the complaint through the appropriate legal channels.”
Juul has not commented on the current state of its Lexington County facilities.
The main focus of the lawsuit is not a major recovery of the money, although the district incurs additional expenses due to the explosion in electronic cigarette use among its students, lawyer David said. Duff, who represents the district.
“The main goal is to try to put a stop to this,” Duff said.
The district is not spending taxpayer money to go ahead with the lawsuit. Instead, Duff said, a conditional fee for paying the deposits would be deducted from any cash compensation.
Such massive class actions usually take a considerable amount of time even if a resolution is negotiated, so any eventual verdict or payment could be a long way off, Duff said.
No other district in the SC has yet applied for membership, he said.
Lexington 1 is far from alone in facing the boom in electronic cigarette use. According to a 2019 Youth Smoking Survey, 22% of South Carolina teens reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
Jessica holdman contributed to this report.