ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (Legal Newsline) – North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein's lawsuit filed last week against e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL isn't all it seems, a government relations expert for an Illinois-based free-market think tank said during a recent interview.
"It's the same old situation," George Jamerson, director of government relations at The Heartland Institute, told Legal Newsline. "It is politically convenient. The lawsuit is frivolous and amounts to political grandstanding."
Proponents of North Carolina's litigation against JUUL often speak in ignorance, Jamerson said.
"There are parents who are demanding action because they have the false assumption that e-cigarettes are the same as combustible cigarettes, which could not be further from the truth," he said.
George Jamerson, director of government relations at The Heartland Institute Photo courtesy of The Heartland Institute
"But it’s an easy way for politicians to score points and go after 'Big Tobacco.' The constant claims that e-cigarettes are 'a gateway to combustible cigarette usage' is demonstrably untrue and not supported by any data."
The Heartland Institute is based in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
In North Carolina's lawsuit filed in Durham County Superior Court on May 15, Stein alleges that JUUL downplayed the strength of nicotine in its products, marketing the stimulant in higher-than-normal concentrations while downplaying risks. The lawsuit also claims young people were specifically targeted in JUUL's advertising.
"JUUL targeted young people as customers," Stein said in a statement released shortly after the lawsuit was filed. "As a result, vaping has become an epidemic among minors. JUUL's business practices are not only reckless, they're illegal. And I intend to put a stop to them. We cannot allow another generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine."
The lawsuit is the first of its kind filed by a state against the e-cigarette manufacturer.
JUUL responded to the lawsuit by pointing out the company long has maintained its products are not for children and are intended to assist adult tobacco users in kicking the disease-causing habit.
"While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we share the attorney general's concerns about youth vaping, which is why we have been cooperating with his office and why we have taken the most aggressive actions of anyone in the industry to combat youth usage," JUUL said in a widely published statement last week.
Stein's allegations that JUUL has been marketing its products to children is based largely on flavors in JUUL products, Jamerson said.
"They say that certain flavors constitute marketing to kids, which is simply not true," he said. "Flavors are the primary reason that e-cigarettes have been so effective in reducing adult combustible-cigarette usage. People like flavors; they taste good. That hardly constitutes marketing to kids."
A North Carolina win in the lawsuit could lead to a flavor ban, Jamerson said.
"What this will do is give ammunition for a flavor ban, and a flavor ban would in many ways be a de facto ban on e-cigarettes and other vapor products," he said. "You are taking away the appeal of these products that help in smoking cessation, which of course they see as a win, but in reality the unintended consequences will be increased usage of combustible cigarettes."
Stein has said he shared information from his investigation with other states and that he would not be surprised if they followed North Carolina's lead in suing JUUL. Jamerson said that also isn't what it seems.
"It's a cash grab and a chance for strategic political posturing," he said. "We have seen a wave of states introducing punitive legislation across the country targeting e-cigarettes and vapor products."