Family of Carmel teen sues Juul, calling e-cigarettes addictive, dangerous

A Carmel family is suing Juul Labs Inc., saying the company’s e-cigarettes contain excessively high amounts of nicotine and do not include warnings that the products can become addictive.

Thomas McCullough said his 17-year-old son first tried Juul e-cigarettes in late 2015 as a high school freshman and quickly grew addicted. When his parents tried to get their son to quit, he experienced withdrawal symptoms, including severe headaches.

The nicotine in the e-cigarettes “altered his brain physically and chemically, and has put him at risk for a lifetime of lifelong health problems, to say nothing of the economic costs of nicotine addiction,” the complaint says.

The family filed the suit Aug. 20 in the Indiana Southern District Court in Indianapolis. It is the first such federal lawsuit in Indiana against Juul, according to a review of court filings.

Juul, based in San Francisco, said in a statement that its products are a “viable alternative” for the 1 billion adult smokers worldwide.

“We have never marketed to youth and do not want any non-nicotine users to try our products,” the company said. “Last year, we launched an aggressive action plan to combat underage use as it is antithetical to our mission.”

Juul added the Indiana lawsuit is without merit.

However, the company has been facing a growing number of high-profile complaints and health warnings in recent months.

In December, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said parents, teachers, health professionals and government officials must take “aggressive steps” to keep children from using e-cigarettes, saying they are addictive and can have negative health effects. He pointed out that each Juul cartridge, or pod, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, and that the company’s liquid nicotine mixture is specially formulated to give a smoother, more potent nicotine buzz.

Juul makes e-cigarettes in numerous flavors, including mint, menthol, mango, fruit, creme and cucumber.

Also last fall, a top official with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called for measures to prevent the marketing of e-cigarettes directly to minors.

According to the Indiana lawsuit, each of Juul’s e-cigarettes contain three times more nicotine than is necessary to satisfy the nicotine cravings of an adult smoker and delivers those doses in an aerosolized vapor that is “intentionally designed to taste like candy.”

The company’s formulation uses a combination of nicotine salts and benzoic acid to deliver a nicotine kick more potent that cigarettes.

Since becoming dependent on Juul e-cigarettes, McCullough has become withdrawn, anxious, highly irritable and prone to angry outbursts, the lawsuit said.

The McCullough family is alleging Juul failed to include nicotine warnings on its devices, pods and packaging.

The lawsuit is alleging product liability, saying Juul designed, manufactured and marketed its e-cigarettes in a defective and unsafe condition, and without adequate warnings

The family is seeking an unspecified amount of damages. Also named as a defendant is Pax Labs Inc., the former parent of Juul until the company was spun off as a separate company in 2017.

The case is McCullough v. Juul Labs Inc., et al., 1:19-cv-03543.

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