Lawsuit Alleges Vaping Company Targets Teens

Juul is currently worth nearly $40 billion, getting a big financial boost at the end of last year from Altria, the makers or Marlboro.

A new lawsuit filed Wednesday against Juul accuses the vaping company of targeting teens and misrepresenting the potency of the nicotine inside its devices.

The lawsuit filed by the North Carolina Attorney General could ultimately affect Southern California.

Juul is now fighting allegations it targeted young people and as a result created a vaping epidemic among teens. San Francisco based Juul is now valued around $40 billion.

But the North Carolina Attorney General said Juul became that big on the backs of teenagers.

"It uses fruit and dessert-like flavors that serve to entice children to the product," said Josh Stein, the North Carolina Attorney General.

The lawsuit says "Juul deliberately designed the flavors, the look, and even the chemical composition of the e-cigarettes to appeal to youthful audiences ..."

"It altered the chemical composition of nicotine to make inhaling it smoother for young, first time smokers' throats," Stein said. The AG now wants Juul to stop selling e-cigarettes to minors in his state and limit flavors. In just one year, there has been a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high schoolers and a 48 percent jump among middle schoolers, according to the latest National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Juul told NBC4 it hasn't seen the lawsuit, but "share(s) the attorney general's concerns ..." adding it has "stopped the sale" of "flavored Juulpods" in retail stores and "enhanced [its] online age-verification process."

The company also shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts. Juul is also facing scrutiny for its latest commercials. The new ads feature adults who switched from cigarettes to Juul. But some medical professionals are questioning if the ads imply that Juul can help people stop using cigarettes.

"If you're going to make a medical claim, we have laws about that," said Dr. Michael Ong, of the California Tobacco Education & Research Oversight Committee. "It does need more scrutiny."

In a statement to the NBC4 I-Team, Juul said it's "a switching product" and "not intended to be used as cessation products, including for the cure or treatment of nicotine addiction …"

Now Juul is on the defense again as vaping among teens continues to climb. "Juul designed its product to look like a flash drive, making it cool and easy for students to hide," Stein said.

The legal age to purchase Juul products is already 21 in California. In North Carolina it's still 18. Juul says it strongly advocates raising the purchase age nationally to 21.

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