Idaho Falls School District 91 is joining a mass tort school district lawsuit against Juul Labs, the market leader in e-cigarettes.
The district’s board of trustees met Tuesday for a work meeting to discuss the national lawsuit, which has William Shinoff, an attorney with the Frantz Law Group in California, as its counsel.
“The issue of vaping was across all my (school district) clients,” Shinoff said. “We knew it was getting worse and getting out of control on the campuses.”
Shinoff said he is currently representing over 500 school districts in 32 states in the lawsuit.
The Idaho Falls school board decided to join the lawsuit during its meeting. District Superintendent James Shank said during the meeting that the district was contacted by the Boise-based law firm Anderson, Julian and Hull, which represents many school districts in Idaho.
“There’s a strong basis for us to join this,” Shank said during the board’s meeting. “It’s no cost to the district to do this. It really just states that Idaho Falls School District will join the suit with other school districts across the country.”
Board member Paul Haacke said during the meeting that he recently had a conversation with Skyline High School Vice Principal Hope Larios and he was told that there were vaping issues every day at the high school.
According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 23.6% of high school and 6.7% of middle school students reported currently using any tobacco product in 2020. Nearly 40% of high school users are using an e-cigarette on 20 or more days out of the month and almost a quarter of them use e-cigarettes every day.
Shank said during the meeting that vaping is the number one cause for suspensions in several school districts.
Shinoff said the lawsuit alleges Juul intentionally targeted children to hook them to its product via a nicotine addiction and create lifelong customers, similar to what big tobacco companies did decades ago.
The lawsuit claims Juul did this with kid-oriented advertising that features bright colors and young people on social media platforms that youth often use, Shinoff said. It also notes that flavored cartridges were oriented for children and most often used by underage tobacco users.
“These school districts now are bringing these cases to hold these companies accountable for their conduct,” Shinoff said. “Under the theory of public nuisance, school districts have a right to seek monetary relief to remedy this issue into the future.”
While the lawsuit doesn’t have a fixed amount of compensation it is seeking for Juul to pay, it will be substantial, Shinoff said. Districts will seek funding for methods to deter vaping on campus including vape detectors and cameras, educational resources about the harms of vaping, and support for students in the form of counselors who specialize in addiction issues.
“We know this is something we can’t fix overnight so we’re going to need to provide funding for a period of time,” he said.
The Bonneville School District 93 board of trustees also expressed interest in joining the lawsuit during a meeting on Wednesday. The board will vote on a resolution to join the lawsuit during the board’s October meeting.
Amy White, the attorney at Anderson, Julian and Hull who has contacted Idaho school districts about the lawsuit, said about 40 school boards in Idaho have decided to act against Juul. She expects a similar number to join by the end of October and charter schools have expressed interest in joining too.
“This is a significant problem our (Idaho) administrators and boards are having to deal with,” White said.
The 2017 Idaho Healthy Youth Survey found 13.9% of Idaho students used a vape pen or e-cigarette in the past 30 days, with 3.3% using on 20 or more of the past 30 days.
Juul has already settled for $40 million in a similar lawsuit in North Carolina in June. The company agreed to change its marketing practices and limit the number of devices and pods North Carolina consumers can buy every month.
“I think when you see a resolution like that from a company, while they do not admit fault, you can infer that from that type of resolution,” Shinoff said.
The first school district trial will occur in March 2022, Shinoff said. The district has not been named yet.