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New York joins states suing e-cigarette maker Juul

New York has joined the ranks of states suing the nation’s biggest e-cigarette maker, citing deceptive marketing practices that allegedly have contributed to 42 deaths and thousands of injuries nationwide.

Attorney General Letitia James announced the lawsuit on Tuesday against San Francisco-based Juul Labs Inc. It alleges the company has contributed to a youth vaping epidemic using misleading sales tactics on popular social media sites. The suit also alleges that Juul advertising touted e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine, as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

In a statement, Juul Labs responded that “while we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference at her office in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. New York has joined the ranks of states suing the nation's biggest e-cigarette maker, San Francisco based JUUL Labs. (AP PhotoRichard Drew)

California sued the company on Monday, and North Carolina in May. Illinois, Massachusetts and several other states are also investigating Juul, which James said represents 70% of the e-cigarette market.

In the latest government survey, one in four high school students reported using e-cigarettes the previous month, despite federal law banning sales to those under 18.

"Juul basically took a page from Big Tobacco's playbook," James, New York state’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, told a news conference at her Manhattan office.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Manhattan state Supreme Court. It requires Juul to stop targeting minors and pay fines for various alleged violations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 42 deaths linked to vaping and 2,172 injuries, according to the federal agency’s latest count.

The attorney general said the death of a 17-year-old boy in the Bronx, linked to vaping, spurred her to file the lawsuit.

"As a result of all of their advertising, a significant number of young people thought that e-cigarettes were safe," James said.

She said other companies that produce e-cigarettes may be targeted in the future, including one that partly owns Juul.

“I can’t specify our legal strategy, but going forward, all individuals who are responsible for the destruction that has been caused in the state of New York, you can be assured this office will pursue those individuals and not be limited to any one particular company,” James said.