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Juul Settles Landmark Suit Over Teen Vaping With North Carolina

NOEL KING, HOST:

The e-cigarette maker Juul will settle with North Carolina over allegations that it markets to kids. Juul will pay $40 million and change its marketing practices. Here's Jason deBruyn from WUNC.

JASON DEBRUYN, BYLINE: North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has been taking on the vaping industry, filing lawsuits against nine companies, though Juul is the largest. He sued Juul in May of 2019.

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JOSH STEIN: North Carolina is now the first state in the nation to hold Juul accountable for its instrumental role in creating a youth vaping epidemic.

DEBRUYN: North Carolina isn't alone. Attorneys general in more than a dozen states have filed suit against Juul. They accuse the company of targeting teens with product design, flavors and advertising.

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STEIN: Juul sparked and spread a disease - the disease of nicotine addiction. They did it to teenagers across North Carolina and this country simply to make money.

DEBRUYN: In the settlement, Juul will pay North Carolina $40 million, money that will fund cessation programs. Stein says Juul will also change marketing practices.

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STEIN: Today's court order will go a long way towards ensuring that their e-cigarette product is not in kids' hands, its chemical vapor is out of their lungs and that the nicotine does not poison or addict their brains.

DEBRUYN: Despite the agreement to pay, Juul has denied wrongdoing. In a statement, the company says the settlement is consistent with its ongoing effort to reset the company as it combats underage usage.

Matthew Farrely studies the effects of nicotine advertising for the nonprofit research group RTI International. In one study, he found that exposure to e-cigarette television advertising influences intentions to use e-cigarettes.

MATTHEW FARRELLY: I found out early on that the advertising was persuasive, which isn't surprising. You know, we know that advertising works.

DEBRUYN: Importantly, Juul has a device that looks more like a thumb drive, which can be more easily concealed from parents and teachers. Its sleek design gives it more of a cool factor.

FARRELLY: Kids are pretty sensitive to the way that products are perceived. So the ones that look like a cigarette, you know, they thought that's, like, your father's e-cigarette.

DEBRUYN: Juul agreed to curtail most social media and influencer advertising, outdoor advertising near schools and sponsoring sporting events and concerts.

FARRELLY: They can claim that they weren't specifically targeting adolescents, and that may very well be true. But if you're not specifically trying to avoid adolescents, there's going to be plenty of spillover.

DEBRUYN: But Farrelly says it will take an active advertising campaign to reach teens, something the settlement will fund.

For NPR News, I'm Jason deBruyn in Raleigh, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF KLIMEKS' "BENEATH ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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