A California federal judge trimmed but did not dismiss 18 bellwether suits against a group of current and former Juul Labs Inc. executives, along with the e-cigarette maker’s largest investor, Altria Group Inc., in a MDL claiming Juul intentionally marketed its harmful tobacco products to young people.
U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick trimmed several claims, many related to strict liability, but kept most of the disputed claims alive, finding that the allegations by the dozen and a half plaintiffs were strong enough to survive the dismissal phase of the litigation.
Atria, which holds a 35% stake in Juul and produces Marlboro cigarettes, among other brands, is liable for direct acts of fraud for its role in the “Make the Switch” campaign — which encourages tobacco smokers to switch to e-cigarettes — as well as its false nicotine content statements on Juul packaging and failure to disclose risks to users.
Juul and Altria are battling claims they misleadingly told the public that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes, fanning the flames of a youth vaping epidemic. In reality, the products were designed to give users higher doses of nicotine than traditional cigarettes, and that the companies targeted teenagers, using social media and advertising to present Juul’s vapes as “fun,” “harmless” and not addictive.