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Romanucci & Blandin Sues Juul and Waukegan Retailer for Deceptive Marketing and Sales of Vaping Products to Gurnee Teen Suffering from Lung Damage

September 13, 2019

Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, today filed a civil lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul on behalf of a Lake County teen who recently was hospitalized for severe lung damage, alleging the company used deceptive marketing tactics to target adolescents leading to widespread adolescent addiction of vaping products with highly concentrated sources of nicotine and other harmful chemical compounds. 

Filed in Lake County Circuit Court on behalf of 18-year-old Gurnee resident Adam Hergenreder, the lawsuit names Juul Labs, its investors Altria Group, Phillip Morris, and its marketing agency Cult Collective LP for deceptive marketing practices. The suit also names The Gas Stop in suburban Waukegan for illegally selling nicotine-based products to Hergenreder, who began vaping as a minor approximately 1.5 years ago and recently was hospitalized for severe lung damage. Hergenreder now is among over 450 cases nationwide of lung illness related to e-cigarette usage, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“JUUL has turned a generation of adolescents into addicts and recklessly put the health and safety of young men and women like Adam in jeopardy, inflicting illnesses upon them that medical personnel and public health authorities have yet to understand the causes of or the long-term impacts of,” said Antonio Romanucci, founding partner of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC. “While the terrible damage done to Adam’s lungs and his overall health can’t be undone, Juul should be held responsible for deliberately targeting him and millions of other American teens with wildly irresponsible claims that its products are safe.”

As the complaint describes, Juul became the dominant e-cigarette manufacturer with over 75 percent of the e-cigarette marketplace largely by copying the playbook Big Tobacco used decades earlier in its illicit campaign to hook Americans on nicotine at an early age. In 2015, Juul began launching large-scale digital media campaign deliberately targeting teenagers like Hergenreder on social media including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, encouraging teen users to post images of themselves using the product with affiliated marketing hashtags. Juul also posted paid advertising featuring teen models smoking Juul products in provocative social scenes, suggesting its products would enhance users’ social standing among peers. 

As a result of Juul’s aggressive marketing tactics, teens have adopted have e-cigarette smoking at alarming rates, which the CDC has termed an “outbreak.” In Illinois, while traditional cigarette use among minors has been declining for years, e-cigarette usage between 2016 and 2018 increased by 65% among high school sophomores and 45% among high school seniors, according to the complaint. Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration disclosed that over a quarter of high school students nationally have reported using e-cigarettes in 2019, while the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported a 2018 spike in nicotine vaping was the largest of any substance uptake in 44 years. The U.S. Surgeon General has called e-cigarette use an “epidemic” among youth and signaled that JUUL has largely fueled the crisis, as the complaint alleges.

The aggressive rate of adoption among teens also can be attributed in part to the patented technology Juul developed to make its e-cigarette product even more addictive than traditional cigarettes. JUUL’s use of an aerosol, rather than a flame, to activate its nicotine solution results in a quick burst causing users to feel the rapid onset of the nicotine upon inhalation. This mechanism also makes its nicotine exceedingly more addictive, especially when used by teens. 

Research shows that the adolescent brain is exceptionally more vulnerable to the addictive effects of nicotine because the circuits of the brain underlying pleasure and the pursuit of novel and enjoyable experiences develop faster than the circuits in the brain that promote decision-making, impulse control, and rational thinking, meaning adolescents are inclined to progress faster to nicotine dependence than adults, according to the complaint.

In addition to addictive nicotine consumption, vaping and e-cigarette consumers have been exposed to significant levels of at least 31 harmful chemical compounds, including propylene glycol, glycidol, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein—all either carcinogens or respiratory irritants that are likely to produce chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, inflammatory lung diseases and other severe illnesses. According to the complaint, JUUL has failed to disclose that its products contain any of these toxic chemicals or warn users about potential adverse health effects from using these products. In fact, the company has falsely branded itself as a “safe” alternative to smoking, as less addictive than tobacco and as an alternative to stop smoking traditional cigarettes altogether.  

“So not only were teens like Adam inundated with Juul’s sleek digital advertising campaigns, they were hooked from almost the moment they first inhaled based on how Juul designed its products and, worse, by misleading its users to believe that its products were safer and less addictive than traditional cigarettes when quite the opposite was in fact true,” Romanucci said. “To put it mildly, Adam didn’t stand a chance to avoid getting hooked on these toxic timebombs.” 

The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages for violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, among other claims. 

This is the second lawsuit Romanucci & Blandin has filed against Juul. In August, the firm joined Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim in filing a complaint against Juul on behalf of county residents, alleging the company has caused a public health crisis based on its predatory marketing campaigns.  That case is pending in the 19th Judicial Circuit of Lake County. 

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