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D65 joins lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer

School District 65 took a break from e-learning Monday night to take on e-cigarettes.

The Evanston/Skokie Board of Education voted unanimously on Monday night to join a multi-state, multi-district class action lawsuit against Juul Labs, the large manufacturer of electronic cigarettes.

The federal Food and Drug Administration says 3.6 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes, with 80% of those young people choosing flavored pods such as fruit or mint. Flavor pods are inserted into the e-cigarette vaping device.

E-cigarettes do contain nicotine, but are sometimes used by those trying to “step down” and reduce their usage of regular cigarettes or even stop smoking.

Raphael Obafemi, District 65 Chief Financial and Operations Officer, told the Board that “just like the old fashioned cigarettes,” e-cigarette makers “target the young children.” Obafemi said Juul is the largest e-cigarette company, and the class action lawsuit, which involves 250 school districts from 23 states, is a way to “punish and hold accountable” the manufacturer.

A memo to the Board explains the lawsuit seeks monetary damages for costs incurred by school districts for things such as “vape detectors, staff and attorney time for disciplinary procedures, SRO time, educational program and student supervision, counselors, and other expenses.”

The litigation also is trying to “stop the sale of flavored vaping pods and the intentional marketing of these products to young people.”

There is no upfront cost to District 65 to join the lawsuit. Legal fees to the outside firm handling the case will be deducted from winnings, if the school districts prevail.

Obafemi said money coming to District 65 would help strengthen social services in the middle schools.

Board member Sergio Hernandez said joining the lawsuit was “personal” for him. Hernandez recalled cigarettes being sold or even given away to students by companies when he was in high school in the 1980s. Hernandez said e-cigarette makers should be held accountable now for “giving us poisons.”

In an email to “Evanston Now,” a Juul company spokesperson said “We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, legislators, regulators, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”

The spokesperson added that Juul has reduced its product portfolio, halted television, print, and digital advertising, and submitted an application to the FDA including “comprehensive scientific evidence to support harm reduction potential of its products and data-driven measures to address undeerage use.”

The company said its customer base is the world’s one billion adult smokers, and stated it will respond to the lawsuit’s allegations “through the appropriate legal channels.’

The lawsuits from the various districts around the country have been consolidated into a single case in federal court in California.

Evanston Township High School’s Board of Education has already voted to join the lawsuit.

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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