The Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley school districts on Monday joined at least five other school districts nationwide that have authorized lawsuits against the country’s leading e-cigarette maker, Juul Labs.
Both districts approved resolutions seeking damages they claim they’ve incurred as a result of students’ use of the devices.
“If they don’t vape on a regular basis they feel intense cravings, anxiety, jitteriness and they’re really finding it a challenge,” said David Smith, a spokesman for the Shawnee Mission School District.
Last week the Olathe School District, as well as school districts in Concordia, Kansas; St. Charles County, Missouri; and Long Island, New York, sued Juul, claiming the company deliberately targets school-age kids in its marketing campaigns and misleads them about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping.
The Goddard School District in Goddard, Kansas, has also authorized a lawsuit against Juul, but that suit has not been filed yet.
As of last week, 1,299 lung injury cases linked to vaping had been reported nationwide, including 26 deaths in 21 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two of the deaths were in Kansas and one was in Missouri.
It’s not clear what’s causing the illnesses and deaths, although the majority of cases involve patients using products containing THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The CDC says that THC-containing products, particularly those obtained off the street or from family members and other informal sources, appear to be playing a major role in the outbreak. At the same time, the agency says that “the possibility that nicotine-containing products play a role in this outbreak cannot be excluded.”
Juul, for its part, says that it does not target youth in its marketing campaigns and that its products are a viable alternative to cigarettes.
Juul is the dominant e-cigarette maker in the country, with an estimated two-thirds of the market. Cigarette giant Altria acquired a 35 percent stake in Juul last year in a deal valued at $12.8 billion.
The Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley lawsuits are expected to mirror the ones filed by Olathe and the other school districts, which allege they have been forced to divert money, time and resources to deal with a vaping epidemic among students.
Kirk Goza, one of the lawyers representing the school districts, told KCUR on Tuesday that districts have been forced to allocate resources to install sensors to detect vaping and to create new counselor and nursing positions to deal with the problems of addiction.
Goza said as many as one out of four or five junior high and high school students vape.
“At the end we want to rectify this problem, and that’s going to be one that requires a number of components including education, treatment and stricter controls,” Goza said.
In a related development, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday signed an executive order directing state health officials to launch a campaign to educate kids on the potentially negative health effects of vaping and to deter kids from using them.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.