Vaping has exploded in popularity in recent years, including among teenagers, and has raised alarms in schools and among anti-tobacco advocates.
“There is a teenage vaping epidemic, and usage levels are spiking at an unprecedented rate, which importantly is reversing a decades-long decline in smoking rates among young people,” Racine said in an interview.
His office alleges that Juul explicitly tried to advertise on channels like YouTube and Vice magazine, which attract younger audiences, and failed to properly verify the ages of customers buying e-cigarettes online.
The lawsuit alleges that Juul also deceived consumers about the nicotine levels in their products and improperly marketed vaping as a way to stop smoking traditional cigarettes.
A spokesman for Juul said the company has not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but is committed to reducing underage vaping.
“As part of that process, we recently stopped accepting orders for our Mint JUULpods in the U.S., suspended all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the U.S., and are investing in scientific research to ensure the quality of our FDA Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) application, and expanding our commitment to develop new technology to reduce youth use,” the company said in a statement provided by spokesman Ted Kwong.
The lawsuit comes more than six months after the attorney general’s office requested documents from Juul.
Racine’s office also said Tuesday that prosecutors are issuing subpoenas to eight other e-cigarette companies on their business and marketing practices, but would not name them.
Bills before the D.C. Council would ban flavored vaping products and the sale of any e-cigarette without a doctor’s prescription for smoking cessation.
In response to questions Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) expressed skepticism about an outright prohibition but described vaping as a public health risk.