Springfield Public Schools is the latest in a string of a districts suing Juul Labs Inc., a high profile manufacturer of e-cigarettes.
“Springfield Public Schools has joined in a new phase of the ongoing, nationwide fight against vaping. Schools, unfortunately, have become a nexus for the consumption and distribution of vaping products,” said Stephen Hall, chief communications officer for the district. “Vaping is easily concealed in the school environment and these products may contain toxic chemicals linked to heart disease, respiratory illness and cancer. “
The school board voted Tuesday to join the federal lawsuit. The vote was taken behind closed doors, which is permitted because it involved legal action.
It claims, among other things, that the company marketed its products to teenagers — including flavored products — and got a new generation of young people addicted to nicotine.
Officials with Juul have repeatedly denied marketing to middle and high school students and stated the company does not want non-nicotine users to try its product. It has also launched a campaign aimed at discouraging use by teenagers.
Superintendent John Jungmann signed an agreement Wednesday with the law firm Anapol Weiss and Aleshire Robb, of Philadelphia, to join the lawsuit. There is no out-of-pocket expense for the district but Springfield stands to benefit if there is a financial settlement or award.
“This legal action seeks compensation for damages inflicted by Juul’s strategic effort to influence harmful behavior in children and the resulting, devastating outcomes. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and nearly all adult tobacco users started before the age of 21,” Hall said in a statement provided to the News-Leader.
The American Medical Association called for a total ban of all e-cigarette and vaping products.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is investigating a national outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury, called EVALI.
As of mid-February, the CDC had collected reports of 2,807 hospitalized EVALI cases or deaths from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories.
Springfield is the largest school district in Missouri, but there have been a string of other districts — from Ava to St. Charles in this state — that have filed or joined lawsuits. They allege they’ve had to spend time and resources to try to prevent and stop illegal and unhealthy behavior by students.
“Beyond the harmful impact on the health of our students, Juul’s actions have resulted in adverse academic outcomes stemming from the loss of classroom instruction related to increased discipline,” Hall said, in the statement. “SPS has incurred significant costs resulting from additional supervision and oversight, as well as the development and implementation of a robust anti-vaping curriculum designed to combat the tobacco epidemic.”
He added: “For all these reasons, SPS is hopeful for a favorable judgment by the court that serves the best interests of our students and our district.”
District policy, revised in 2014, prohibits employees, students and patrons from smoking or using tobacco products, e-cigarettes or imitation tobacco or cigarette products on all district property and during off-campus events.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing. Learn more by visiting News-Leader.com/subscribe.
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