Frederick County has joined a class-action lawsuit against the electronic cigarette company Juul Labs Inc. and Altria Group, which is a 35 percent stakeholder in Juul and the parent company of Philip Morris USA.
Frederick County joins states California, which filed against the company Monday, and New York, which filed its own lawsuit Wednesday, according to Time magazine, in suing the company for misleading advertising practices that were targeted at teenagers and preteens.
North Carolina also sued the company in May, according to the Time report, with other states looking into action against the county. Maryland as a whole has not joined.
The case will be handled by Robbins, Gellar, Rudman and Dowd, which is also representing Montgomery County in the class-action suit, according to the press release from the county.
The lawsuits against Juul come as states are beginning to ban flavored e-cigarettes. In its last legislative session, Maryland raised the age of tobacco and e-cigarette purchases to 21, partially in hopes of diluting the number of e-cigarettes that make their way into hands of high school and middle school students, according to previous News-Post reporting.
Also in the background of the lawsuits is the rising number of vaping-related illness, which skyrocketed over the summer and in some instances ended in death.
Maryland has seen 51 cases of vaping-related illnesses known as e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung illness (EVALI), as of Nov. 19, according to the Maryland Department of Health. That is a fraction of the 2,290 cases, as of Nov. 21, confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
There have been 47 deaths, according to the CDC, but none have occurred in Maryland. The deaths are not linked to one e-cigarette or vaping device company.
Many of the illnesses are thought to be related to vaping THC, according to the New York Times. The cause of the illness might be due to a form of Vitamin E, which sticks to the lungs and has been found in the sample tissue, by the CDC, of those who were sick.
Frederick County’s press release did not mention the vaping-related illness as a reason for joining the lawsuit. It, instead, raised concerns about the popularity of e-cigarettes among teens and preteens.
County Executive Jan Gardner said that the lawsuit is aimed at protecting students. The flavors, such as strawberry or popcorn, made them more marketable to pre-teens and teenagers.
Superintendent Terry Alban and others in the school system told Gardner about the challenges Juuls and pods present for the schools, Gardner said.
“It’s not about money, it’s about sending a message that we want to protect our kids,” she said.
Staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this report.