A total of 18 Tennessee school districts have joined litigation against the largest vaping company in the country. They’re expecting settlement money from JUUL Labs to fund anti-vaping programs as they confront clandestine use on a daily basis.
The latest district to join the Tennessee suit is also the largest — Knox County Schools. In Middle Tennessee, Putnam and Warren counties have also signed on.
“We really look at this as school systems having a lot of — the non-legal term I would use is — a lot to gripe about,” says Chris McCarty of the Lewis Thomason law firm, which is leading the Tennessee case.
McCarty says administrators have shown him entire drawers of vaping devices that were confiscated and told him stories of students hiding them in their underwear. The popularity of vaping is still so new, health officials don’t have a clear picture of how many students are trying it or have become dependent on the nicotine, which can be far more concentrated than in a cigarette. Tennessee’s latest figures show smoking is on the decline but vaping is on the rise.
“We didn’t hire principals to be the vaping police,” McCarty says. “We’d rather them concentrate on other things.”
Tennessee schools say they’ll use the money for vaping prevention, addiction counselors and vaping detectors for school bathrooms.
So far the largest school systems in Middle Tennessee are passing. While it doesn’t cost them anything to join the litigation, it does take time and energy to put down on paper all the ways vaping has been a drain on schools.
School districts across the country have been filing lawsuits since last year. All of the litigation is being consolidated in a federal court in Northern California, similar to how an Ohio court has managed opioid litigation.
A handful of state attorneys general have also filed lawsuits seeking damages. Tennessee hasn’t yet joined, though the state’s attorney general’s office announced last year it was joining a 39-state investigation into JUUL’s marketing practices.