Seattle Public Schools has joined a number of school districts across the country that are suing electronic cigarette manufacturer JUUL for the impact vaping has had on its students and faculty, alleging the company and its subsidiaries intentionally marketed its nicotine products to minors.

Vaping rates among SPS students was on the decline in 2016, according to the district’s lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington on Nov. 5, “but with the rising popularity of JUUL, any decline disappeared.”

One in four high school students reported vaping in the past 30 days in 2018, and that same year the number of 10th-graders using e-cigarettes increased 229 percent from 2016.

“SPS administrators report that in the last two years, vaping in school bathrooms has become a real issue, with kids congregating in the bathrooms, vapor clouds setting off fire alarms, and assistant principals and security having to devote significant time to increased hall sweeps,” the lawsuit states. “Throughout the district, 90% percent of tobacco and nicotine violations during the 2017-2018 school year were for vaping, and over 60% of those violations were for JUUL use specifically.”

SPS is also suing Altria Group, a partner company of Philip Morris USA that makes Marlboro cigarettes, for its $12.8 billion equity investment in JUUL that was announced in December 2018. Altria Group now has a 35 percent stake in JUUL, despite the company previously criticizing JUUL for appealing to minors, according to SPS, by way of a public letter submitted to the FDA in October 2018.

“Altria removed its own pod-based products, the MarkTen Elite and Apex by MarkTen, from the market—only to commit its substantial resources, regulatory knowledge, and lobbying muscle to protecting and expanding JUUL’s market share,” the lawsuit states, “which, as Altria and JUUL both know, relies heavily on youth.”

Altria reported in late October its investment in JUUL is rapidly losing value due to ongoing criticism that the e-cigarette company is responsible for the rise in nicotine addiction among youth.

Seattle's school district accuses JUUL of targeting minors with “Big Tobacco” tactics but using modern social media channels, relying heavily on celebrities and other influencers.

“Over the first year after JUUL launched its ad campaign in June 2015, it held a series of at least 50 highly stylized parties, typically with rock music entertainment, in cities across the United States,” the lawsuit states. “Thousands of young people were given free nicotine-filled JUULpods (appropriately named ‘JUUL starter kits’), and JUUL posted photos of various young people enthusiastically puffing on JUULs across their social media channels. JUUL also featured popular stars such as Katy Perry holding a JUUL at the Golden Globes.”

Lisa Davidson, SPS’s Prevention and Intervention manager, is cited in the lawsuit, saying children know that tobacco is bad, but believe vaping is healthier. SPS cites a 2018 Truth Initiative study that found 63 percent of adolescent JUUL users did not know JUULpods contain nicotine. Eighty-five percent of adolescent e-cigarette users smoke flavored pods, according to a 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

After several people in the United States died from respiratory health issues believed to have been caused by vaping, the Washington State Board of Health approved an emergency ban on the sale of flavored vaping products.

Of the 39 people who died, the Centers for Disease Control recently reported that 29 were found to have vitamin E acetate in their lungs. This is an additive some in some THC-containing cartridges.

SPS also cites findings by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, using internal documents, that concludes that JUUL “deliberately targeted children in order to become the nation’s largest seller of e-cigarettes,” and infiltrated schools to do it.

The school district has seven prevention specialists, who provide “Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment” (SBIRT). There are 102 schools in the district and 53,000 students. The lawsuit states funding for these specialists expires in 18 months.

SPS’s Prevention and Intervention program also trains school staff, administrators, counselors, nurses and librarians to recognize vape pods and detect popular flavors by scent, according to the lawsuit. Bus drivers are put out by having to stop students from vaping while riding to and from school, and custodians are spending more time dealing with vaping products left in bathrooms that contain “nicotine cartridges and other toxic chemicals products,” according to the lawsuit.

Seattle Public Schools is suing JUUL, Altria and its subsidiaries for alleged violations of the Washington Public Nuisance Law and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and is demanding a jury trial in the case.

SPS argues JUUL and Altria created the “JUUL Enterprise,” “to maintain and expand JUUL’s massive, and ill-gotten, share of the e-cigarette market.”

The district is also suing e-cigarette company Eonsmoke for allegedly capitalizing on JUUL’s popularity by marketing the compatibility of its products to JUUL's.

“SPS is represented by lawyers from Keller Rohrback, a firm that specializes in representing public entities in high-impact cases involving public health, consumer protection, and the environment,” according to an SPS news release. “The firm also represents other public entities in litigation against Juul, including King County.”

A message to JUUL media representatives seeking comment was not returned.