The district joined a lawsuit against JUUL led by Olathe Public Schools. (By Tatum Elliott)
The district joined a lawsuit against JUUL led by Olathe Public Schools.

By Tatum Elliott

District joins lawsuit against JUUL, while students and staff still struggle to handle vaping epidemic

October 18, 2019

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District joins Olathe in lawsuit against JUUL

After Olathe Public Schools filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, Inc. on Monday, Oct. 7, USD 232 followed in their footsteps. The USD 232 Board of Education authorized legal counsel to file a lawsuit against JUUL, a manufacturer, distributor and seller of cigarette alternatives known as e-cigarettes or vapes.

The district published information regarding why they decided to file a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, Inc. on their website. In the statement, the district said they took action “in response to the increasing number of students using JUUL products at school…[which] has caused an ongoing interruption to the learning environment.”

District superintendent Frank Harwood observed an increase in students using e-cigarettes on school properties throughout the district.

“Within the last three years, USD 232 saw a significant increase in the number of students possessing and/or using e-cigarettes on campus,”  Harwood said in a press release available here. “Parents and students have asked us to help them address this trend.”

This increase in vaping has been drastic — there were only three vaping-related suspensions in the 2016 school year, while in 2018 there were 55. The district is exploring solutions like new vaping education programs and  awareness campaigns for parents, which they hope to eventually pay for with compensation from the lawsuit. 

Within the last three years, USD 232 saw a significant increase in the number of students possessing and/or using e-cigarettes on campus.

— superintendent Frank Harwood

The lawsuit presented evidence that JUUL Labs, Inc. marketed to teenagers and argued that the company created an epidemic of underage vaping in America.

According to the lawsuit, “JUUL used advertisements eerily similar in scheme and content to those used decades ago by traditional cigarette manufacturers before they were banned for targeting youth.” The district argues that they did this by marketing Juul via social media influencers, utilizing peer pressure as a tool to force students into vaping. 

The lawsuit also claims that JUUL marketed directly to students through education programs taught in schools. JUUL employees and agents used these programs to raise awareness among students of JUUL’s flavored, low-irritation nicotine products. 

One sophomore female, who wishes to remain anonymous because of the consequences of admitting to vaping and will be referred to as Gloria, believes that JUUL targets underage kids like her. 

“JUUL Labs, Inc. knows that teenagers buy JUUL illegally, so they try to shape their marketing around that,” Gloria said.

The lawsuit also claims that via social media, JUUL was able to create an effective idea among teenagers that vaping would increase their social status. 

Gloria said she felt intense pressure from her peers to conform to her surroundings and start vaping under the assumption that if she didn’t vape she would be seen as lame.

“I’ve become distant from some friends who don’t involve themselves in Juuling,” Gloria stated. “I was afraid that if people found out that I didn’t participate in vaping then they would think I am uncool which led me to start Juuling.”

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The lawsuit also claimed that JUUL’s conduct as a company created an epidemic of underage vaping in the United States, which Olathe Public Schools claimed “[forced their district] to spend significant time, money, and human resources to combat this nuisance to try to preserve its core mission of educating students.”

If any settlement is reached from the lawsuit, “the intention of the Board of Education is to use those funds to offset costs related to abating the issue, education programs regarding vaping, and any future costs the district may incur to assist students concerning vaping,” according to the district website. 

Many students are supportive of the district’s decision to file a lawsuit against Juul Labs, Inc., including a senior girl who remained anonymous due to fear of social consequences for her opinion and will be referred to as Maggie. 

“I believe the lawsuit against JUUL is valued and has just cause. It is something that has affected our school and has been put on the shoulders of administration,” Maggie said. “However, I sadly don’t think any changes will be made.”

Students and staff address vaping throughout school

With the explosion of vaping throughout Mill Valley, students and teachers are faced with difficult choices in regards to the epidemic. Some students, like Gloria, are forced to begin vaping due to overwhelming peer pressure. Others, like sophomore Alyssa Canning, vocally speak out about the dangers of vaping and tobacco. 

Canning, who was profiled by reporter Zach Shrader earlier this year, joined Resist, an organization that fights against the use of tobacco products in schools. She wants students to know that the program’s purpose is not to bash students or individuals who vape but to spread awareness about the harmful effects that e-cigarettes have on your health.

I think everybody’s going to look back and go, ‘That was stupid. Why was I doing that? And I wasted time doing something that wasn’t good for me.’

— school resource officer Mo Loridon

“[Resist’s] goal is to educate and help people be more aware of how dangerous tobacco products can be,” Canning said. “Many people assume that we are trying to shame them for using these products, but all we want to do is help educate and offer people guidance for quitting.”

Teachers are also trying to fight back against vaping in their school. Biology teacher Landra Fair has successfully caught a few students vaping, which she credits to her vigilance in enforcing the rules. 

After learning that students have been vaping in the school bathroom or even during class, Fair has tried to keep a more watchful eye on her students and tries to monitor when and how many students are using the restroom at the same time.

“I would say that I’m more aware of who’s using the bathroom and when or making sure that kids don’t go to the bathroom together,” Fair said. “[I’ve] also [been] keeping a closer eye on them since it’s been reported to me that kids have Juuled in class and blown the vapor into the sinks or blown it into their shirts, so just looking for it where I never had to in the past.”

School resource officer Mo Loridon, who is in charge of punishing students caught vaping, says that recent trends have been positive; the amount of students he has to deal with vaping has been declining. 

“I have seen a decrease in people getting caught … which tells me there’s probably a decrease in usage,” Loridon said. “Either the students are getting smarter and not getting caught, or less students are vaping.”

Loridon believes that for the issue of vaping to be truly resolved, students have to educate themselves on the consequences of usage. 

“I think teens sometimes have to figure stuff out for themselves,” Loridon said. “It doesn’t matter if I say it, if their mom and dad [say] it, or Grammy says it. Until [teens] figure it out and learn for themselves, I don’t know that [parents and grandparents] make a difference.”

Overall, Loridon thinks students will regret vaping in the future. 

“I think everybody’s going to look back and go, that was stupid. Why was I doing that? And I wasted time doing something that wasn’t good for me,” Loridon said.

For more reading on the vaping epidemic at Mill Valley, check out last year’s feature story on the issue by Elizabeth Joseph, Hannah Chern and Tanner Smith. 

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