Farmington man sues Juul Labs

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A Farmington man has joined a spate of vapers who are suing the e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. 

The court action Nicholas Moore filed Sept. 20 in the federal Western District of New York’s Rochester division joins scores nationally targeting the e-cigarette firm in the wake of reports that scores of teenagers suffered lung ailments after vaping cannabis oil. 

Moore’s lawsuit also targets Philip Morris USA Inc. and Philip Morris parent Altria Group Inc., which have a 35 percent stake in Juul. 

As lawsuits like Moore’s began to pile up, Juul CEO and co-founder Kevin Burns  announced last month that he was stepping down. Replacing Burns is K.C. Crosthwaite, an Altria executive who managed the Philip Morris owner’s entry to the vaping market. 

Like many of his fellow claimants, Moore says Juul lured him into nicotine addiction by falsely portraying its e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking. He is one of what so far is only a handful of litigants claiming that vaping nicotine-infused oil led to serious health consequences. 

Moore is a 24-year-old who says he had never smoked tobacco but had used smokeless tobacco, also known as chewing tobacco, before taking up vaping in 2016. His court papers state that he took up vaping under the belief that it would help him quit using chewing tobacco. Moore vaped two mango-flavored Juul pods daily, the court complaint states.

After experiencing severe pains in his right side last March, Moore was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, a condition he blames on vaping. Moore’s complaint is one of 350 cases of vaping-related lung illness tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Drug Administration as of the Moore compliant, court papers state.

In a Sept. 26 update, the CDC revised that number upward, stating that as of Sept. 24 it had tallied 805 confirmed and probable cases of vaping-related lung illness reported in 46 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In a mission statement posted on Juul’s website, the e-cigarette firm describes its product as a tool intended to help adult smokers wean themselves from combustible tobacco products such as conventional cigarettes. At the same time, Juul has marketed a line of flavored nicotine-infused vaping oils that have become widely popular with teens and young adults. 

In a Sept. 9 warning letter, the FDA put the San Francisco-based Juul on notice that it has the e-cigarette maker in its sights for failing to get FDA authorization to market its vaping systems and oils as “modified risk tobacco products.”

Recent widespread reports of previously healthy teenagers suffering lung damage has kicked off national concern over vaping. Initial investigations tied those injuries to bootleg THC oil that had been cut with vitamin E oil.  

However, newer research cited by the Mayo Clinic suggests that mineral oils like vitamin E oil many not be at fault. Examination of 17 patients who suffered vaping-related lung injuries showed none traced to fatty substances like mineral oils but rather found characteristics typically suffered by patients injured by inhaling toxic gases or chemicals, notes Mayo Clinic researcher Brandon Larsen M.D. in a recent video. Such injuries are not suffered by tobacco or marijuana smokers.  

Moore is represented by attorneys in the Westchester County office of New Jersey-based Javeraum, Wurgaft, Hicks, Kahn, Wickstrom & Sinins, who indicate in court filings that they plan to ask the Rochester court for permission to argue the case here

Whether the Ontario County man’s case will be heard here is not clear. A request by Juul asking that all vaping-related personal injury cases including individual actions like Moore’s and class action complaints be consolidated in San Francisco, where Juul is headquartered, was to be considered by a federal judge in San Francisco this month.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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