December 2nd, 2019

Mounting Lawsuit Against E-cigarette Manufacturers

With a recent unanimous vote, Quakertown Community School District (“QCSD”) became the first Bucks County, PA school district to join the mounting lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturers. Many school districts across the United States are experiencing serious problems with vaping products, especially in high schools. Why take legal action?

Health Risk of Vaping

Part of the impetus for the QCSD Board to take this action was an incident where a high school student became unconscious immediately after vaping in a bathroom stall.  The student was sharing someone else’s vaping device that was laced with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound that is the main active ingredient of marijuana).  This student suffered an acute respiratory event which could have been fatal and was certainly a health risk.  The School Board also has received several complaints from students – particularly in the high school – that vaping is a “big problem.”

The Resolution adopted by the School Board when voting to sue e-cigarette manufacturers cited information from The Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives which states: “JUUL deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children; JUUL also targeted teenagers and children, as young as 8 years old, in summer camps and out-of-school programs; JUUL recruited thousands of online ‘influencers’ to market to teens.”

The timing of the lawsuit and the parties to be named are still being determined.  The legal action approved by the School Board will not cost the district, and any monetary recovery will be used “to compensate the district for damages suffered by the district and its students as a result of the manufacture, marketing, sale and use of electronic cigarettes and vaping products.”

JUUL is a prominent target for vaping complaints (and lawsuits) since it manufactured e-cigarettes designed to appeal to children – e.g., cotton candy, mango, fruit, Crème brulee, and cool mint flavored e-cigarettes among other flavors.  While JUUL has stopped the sale of certain flavored e-cigarettes, that has not stopped the mounting problems with young students vaping.

Supporting Legislation

In response to the need voiced by many School Board Directors (including QCSD), the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) worked with state legislators to move legislation addressing vaping by minors.  The bills, Senate Bill 473, sponsored by Sen. Scavello (R-Monroe County), and House Bill 97, sponsored by Rep. Rapp (R-Warren County), amend the definition of “tobacco product” to include electronic nicotine delivery systems and to prohibit the sale of these products to minors. Additionally, the bills establish penalties and require school boards to adopt policy to enforce the prohibition regarding the use of tobacco products and notify students, parents and employees.

If the bills became law, School Boards may designate certain areas to permit the use of tobacco products to persons other than students.  The language in these bills clarifies the authority of school boards to implement rules and penalties for the use of tobacco (including e-cigarettes) in school buildings, on school grounds, school vehicles and school-sponsored events.  Unless the user is an active member of the military, Senate Bill 473 also raises the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age.

Attorney Jennifer Weed is a member of the firm’s Medical Malpractice Defense Group, counseling hospitals and medical professionals in medical malpractice litigation and risk management matters. She also serves as a School Board Director for the Quakertown Community School District.