Juul's "Action Plan" Is Too Late for Addicted Miami Teens, Mother Claims in Lawsuit

For years, Miami resident Sabrina Zampa had no idea her teenage sons were regularly vaping. It was only last August, after discovering her son's Juul, that she learned her kids had been "juuling" since middle school. Her now-16-year-old son says he bought his first Juul products from the company's website and later used Postmates to buy pod replacements — as did her younger son, now age 14.

Earlier this week, Juul put out a multistep action plan, saying the company would stop posting on Facebook and Instagram, cease sales of flavored pods in stores, and add more intensive age-verification measures on its website. And the Food and Drug Administration has unveiled new rules that will limit sales on the internet and virtually end them in convenience stores.

But Tampa attorney John Yanchunis, who is representing Zampa in a class-action lawsuit against Juul, says the changes come too late for teens like Zampa's, who can't stop vaping.

"It’s a reaction of consequence rather than conscience," Yanchunis says. "They should have done this from the outset rather than marketing these products to kids."

The new lawsuit, filed November 5 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, accuses the makers of Juul of deceptively marketing "safe, candy-like products to which minors are attracted." The complaint says Zampa's sons and other class members were exposed to toxic levels of nicotine without proper warning, increasing their risk of diseases such as cancer.

Juul did not respond to request for comment from New Times; however, the company said in a news release Tuesday it never intended for kids to start vaping.

"Our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products," the company stated. "But intent is not enough, the numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarette products is a problem. We must solve it."

According to the Miami lawsuit, Zampa's sons have spent hundreds of dollars on Juuls since they started vaping in middle school. Although they both craved the "cool cucumber" flavor, neither teen knew their Juuls contained nicotine, a highly addictive substance. To this day, the brothers have been unable to quit.

Parents across the country have filed suit against Juul with similar allegations. In October, Barbara Yannucci of  Saint Lucie sued the company for false advertising after her teenage son became addicted to juuling and started vaping up to 12 times a day. A New York mother also went after Juul this past June after her 15-year-old son became "heavily addicted to nicotine."

Yanchunis, the lawyer in the Miami case, says the company's marketing is a major reason why kids have gotten hooked.

"Our interest is representing a class of children who have been enticed, induced, and attracted to these products," he says. "Particularly for a young person, a child, it's much harder to overcome something that is addictive than, say, an adult who may have more maturity and a greater strength of willpower. It’s a significant problem."
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.