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Joining the Nationwide Movement

The Shawnee Mission School Board announced that they are joining the country-wide lawsuit seeking a ban against JUUL’s allegedly teen-directed marketing strategies at their board meeting on Oct. 14. 

The lawsuit is centered around JUUL’s marketing and advertising, which was largely spread throughout Snapchat and Instagram by advertisements and hired influencers. The main claim is that advertising was intentionally directed toward teenagers, according to East parent and lawyer Tom Cartmell, a partner in Wagstaff and Cartmell LLC who will represent SMSD and several other districts in the lawsuit. 

“We believe that [JUUL] took a page out of the tobacco playbook as far as advertising in order to reach teenagers,” Cartmell said. “We’re claiming that [the school districts] have a lot of kids addicted to nicotine as a result of that.” 

During the board meeting, SMSD Health Director Shelby Rebek gave a presentation about the effects of vaping, including lung disease and the 29 vaping related deaths in the US. Following the presentation, the board decided to move forward with the lawsuit after a 6-0 vote.

SMSD was the fifth school district in Kansas to join the lawsuit, following the Goddard, Blue Valley, Olathe and De Soto school districts, according to Cartmell, who will represent the schools along with lawyers Brad Honnold and Kirk Goza. 

Cartmell will also represent schools in Arizona, New York and Missouri. These are a few of the other districts around the country who have joined the lawsuit, represented by lawyers across the country.

“I think [the school districts] have decided to take a stand,” Cartmell said. “They want to do what they can to try to band together to try to change JUUL’s marketing practice and protect the kids. Part of the problem has been that the vaping crisis has continued to escalate, and I think schools feel like they need to take a stand now to protect the kids.”

The lawsuit claims “injunctive relief,” a legal remedy that requests a court order to stop the actions of the defendant. The petition will be asking the court to declare that JUUL cancel all marketing strategies allegedly targeting teens, including social media advertising and use of influencers. 

The lawsuit will also ask JUUL to compensate school districts for the costs of implementing devices such as cameras and detectors to prevent students from vaping in schools. This is the end goal of the suit for the districts, SMSD Chief Communications Officer David Smith said. 

Aside from cameras and detectors, some districts have hired staff to educate students on the effects of nicotine, and others to monitor the halls at all hours of the day. A few districts have reconstructed their bathrooms to make it less easy to hide in, and some have paid for medical help for some of their students, according to Cartmell. 

SMSD is currently deciding what to implement, with hopes to acquire funds from the lawsuit to cover whatever they choose. 

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Teacher Steven Appier believes that the funds from the lawsuit will help reduce teen vaping in school. 

“I understand what they’re doing because it’s a problem in this school,” Appier said. “It will mean less time wasted on trying to enforce our rules for smoking and things like that. We don’t have to worry about people in the bathrooms, leaving class, blowing into their hoodie. It’s not going to stop it, but maybe it will reduce it.”

The lawsuit also claims that JUUL contributed to the rise in teen vaping, which has been considered an epidemic by former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

According to CNBC, teen vaping has surged to one in four high school students, with 27.5% of students in the US having used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days — a 15.8 % increase from 2017.

Principal Scott Sherman believes that vaping has led to addiction and distraction in school. 

“In some cases, kids are more focused on seeing when they can sneak out of class, skipping school, maybe going to a park,” Sherman said. “They are missing out on educational opportunities because they’re hooked on the JUUL product.”

According to Smith, the policies enacted to stop JUUL use in schools are costly, placing a financial burden on the school districts.

“The lawsuit is designed to recover those problems,” Smith said. “It is specifically the industry that has caused those problems, and they need to pay for them.”

Each individual district case will be filed individually, and then consolidated in front of one federal court. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided on Sept. 26 that all cases will be consolidated in the northern district of California. If there is a trial, it is expected to happen in two to three years, according to Cartmell. 

In the meantime, the lawyers will go through discovery — the pre-trial work leading up to the case. They will also seek expert witnesses to testify on their behalf, discussing issues such as the loss of resources that schools have suffered and the need for money to fill those gaps, giving support for their case, with the end goal of winning the lawsuit. 

“If we win, [SMSD] will have the resources that we need to take care of our kids to mitigate the impact of vaping,” Smith said.

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