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posted: 1/5/2021 5:30 AM

District 207 to sue e-cigarette company over teen use

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Maine Township High School District 207 will join a class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs over the company's business practices.

The school board on Monday unanimously voted to hire the California-based Frantz Law Group to go after Juul and other unspecified parties involved with e-cigarettes and vaping devices. Suits against Juul and related companies are among the firm's specialties.

The school district's regular lawyers with the Chicago-based Franczek P.C. firm will serve as local co-counsel.

Franczek approached District 207 administrators and proposed joining the lawsuit, Superintendent Ken Wallace said. Wallace and board members enthusiastically supported the idea during Monday night's meeting, which was held remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Wallace called it an "important stand" for the district.

Illinois, Lake County, Park Ridge and other government agencies have filed similar suits or joined class-action lawsuits against the San Francisco-based Juul Labs. So have individual Illinoisans, residents of other states and government agencies across the nation.

They've alleged Juul -- the e-cigarette industry leader -- used deceptive marketing practices to entice minors and misrepresented the amount of nicotine in its products.

No one under 21 is allowed to buy e-cigarettes or tobacco products in Illinois. The minimum age varies in other states.

Juul spokesmen repeatedly have said the company targets adult smokers and not underage users.

In 2019, Juul halted all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the U.S. amid wide backlash against vaping. It also stopped offering products flavored like fruit or dessert items.

The on-campus use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices by students has resulted in costs for staff time, vaping detectors and more expenditures, the District 207 board's resolution states.

But officials also are concerned about the health effects on students that may result from e-smoking and vaping. Board member Teri Collins said the use of the devices has increased "exponentially" at District 207's three schools in recent years.

Collins said she hopes the lawsuit will prompt usage to drop, as cigarette smoking has over time.

For its services to District 207, Frantz will be paid 20% of any financial settlement reached or award made by June 30 or 25% of any payout after that date. If the district receive no financial relief, it will not have to pay the firm.

Wallace expects Juul will wind up paying the many plaintiffs. But even if the district doesn't collect anything, he said, the case is worth pursuing "on principle alone."