An Illinois teenager who fell ill with a lung disease after vaping for over a year sued a leading e-cigarette maker on Friday, accusing it of deliberately marketing to young people and sending the message that vaping is cool.
Attorneys filed a lawsuit in Lake County Circuit Court on behalf of 18-year-old Adam Hergenreder, who was hospitalized at the end of August for about a week after complaining of nausea and labored breathing.
The 85-page suit argued Juul Labs conveyed in advertisements and through social media campaigns that kids could boost their social status by vaping. It also said Juul never fully disclose their products contain dangerous chemicals.
“To put it mildly, Adam didn’t stand a chance to avoid getting hooked on these toxic timebombs,” said Hergenreder’s lawyer, Antonio Romanucci.
The filing comes as health officials investigate hundreds of breathing illnesses nationwide reported in people who used vaping devices. An Illinois man died in August after contracting a lung disease linked to vaping.
Hergenreder recently told the Chicago Tribune that last year he started buying homemade devices filled with THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana, off the street. Vaping companies say blame should be put on those black-market devices, called dab sticks, for a spate of hospitalizations.
Friday’s lawsuit did not directly raise that issue, including whether it is possible that the makeshift devices containing THC could have caused or contributed to Hergenreder’s illness.
Hergenreder, from the Chicago suburb of Gurnee, was released from the hospital on Sept. 6 with “significant lung damage,” according to the lawsuit. He appeared with his mother and his attorney at a Friday news conference announcing the litigation.
San Francisco-based Juul said in a Friday statement that it’s “never marketed to youth” and has ongoing campaigns to combat underage use. It added that its products are meant to help adult smokers wean themselves off traditional paper-and-tobacco cigarettes, which Juul called “the deadliest legal consumer product known to man.”
Among the precautions Juul said it’s taken to ensure young people aren’t drawn to its e-cigarettes was to close Juul’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. The company said it has also deployed technology that restricts a sale until someone’s age is verified.
The new lawsuit accused Juul of sometimes relying on indirect advertising to children, including by employing social media users with huge followings to promote Juul products in tweets or Instagram posts.
The lawsuit also names a gas station in Waukegan as a defendant, accusing it of regularly selling Hergenreder nicotine-based Juul products when he was too young to legally buy them. Federal law prohibits e-cigarette and all other tobacco sales to those under 18.