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Juul to pay Washington state $22.5 million for targeting kids

The company will also set up a secret shopper program to make sure retailers aren't selling e-cigarettes to minors.

(CN) — A judge in Washington state has signed off on a consent judgment requiring e-cigarette giant Juul to pay the Evergreen State $22.5 million for marketing its products to minors.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Juul in September 2020, claiming the company violated the state's Consumer Protection Act by knowingly marketing its products to appeal to underage consumers without telling them how addictive the product was. According to the complaint, less than 1% of middle schoolers in the state used e-cigarettes in 2011 — a figure that jumped tenfold by 2019.

"Juul’s conduct reversed decades of progress fighting nicotine addiction, and today’s order compels Juul to surrender tens of millions of dollars in profit and clean up its act by implementing a slate of corporate reforms that will keep Juul products out of the hands of underage Washingtonians," Ferguson said in a statement on the stipulated judgment issued Wednesday.

Under the agreement, Juul will pay $22.5 million dollars and set up a secret shopper program, conducting a minimum of 25 compliance checks per month to make sure minors aren't buying Juul vaping products. The company also agreed to ensure underage consumers cannot purchase its products online by requiring an ID-verified adult signature upon delivery.

In a statement, a Juul spokesperson said the agreement is "another step in our ongoing effort to reset our company and resolve issues from the past" and said the company supports Washington state's efforts to crack down on underage vaping.

"The terms of the settlement are consistent with our current business practices and past agreements to help combat underage use while offering adult smokers access to our products as they transition away from combustible cigarettes," the spokesperson said.

Juul has been hit by dozens of lawsuits from states, school districts and cities over its past efforts to cultivate young users. California and the city of Los Angeles claimed in a 2019 lawsuit that Juul marketed fun flavored vaping products to youth through colorful advertising in print and over social media.

In Florida, a mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company claiming her 18-year-old son became addicted to Juul’s products in 2015, suffered severe mood swings and ended up hospitalized. He continued using the products until he died in his sleep in 2018, she claimed.

In 2021, a federal judge advanced a sprawling bellwether case against Juul, its founders and board members and its biggest investor Altria, finding enough evidence they had misled the public about the dangers of vaping to warrant a trial.

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