Battle Ground Public Schools is one of the latest of hundreds of districts across the country that seek to take e-cigarette company Juul to court over the rise of vaping in schools.
During its March 14 meeting, the BGPS Board of Directors voted 4-0 to direct Superintendent Denny Waters to work with Spokane-based law firm Stevens Clay PS on a pending lawsuit against Juul Labs and Altria, a major investor in the company.
Waters said districts across the state have been approached about joining the lawsuit recently. The lawsuit seeks to hold the companies accountable for present and future costs districts will incur for the prevention, intervention and education on nicotine use and addiction.
Waters said vaping is a “significant problem” in the district’s high schools. It has also impacted the district’s middle schools.
Information from Stevens Clay cites the state’s Healthy Youth Survey, which in 2018 showed about 30% of high school seniors self-reported vaping in the last 30 days, a 50% increase from what was reported in 2016.
The law firm stated more than 800 school districts have joined a “mass action” case against Juul and Altria, the successor to tobacco giant Philip Morris. The company bought a 35% stake in Juul in 2018 for $12 billion, the firm notes.
Should the lawsuit prevail, Waters said the district could use any funds that are awarded for educational efforts, to hire additional security, and to purchase vapor detectors, which he said are “extremely expensive.”
Waters noted there is no up-front cost for BGPS to join the litigation. If the suit is not settled out of court, it is scheduled to go to trial around November of this year.
Stevens Clay noted that Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Juul in 2020, which argued the company’s marketing appealed to underage users. A similar lawsuit was recently settled for $40 million in North Carolina.
Although he didn’t have exact statistics for BGPS, Waters said a “significant” amount of students are disciplined for vaping every year. Those are only the ones who are caught, as Stevens Clay pointed out Juul devices are inconspicuous and easy to hide.
“I think if you were to go into our high schools and ask our administrators and our staff about catching students who are vaping, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Waters said.
BGPS Board President Mark Watrin said hedges at one middle school were removed so students couldn’t hide behind them to vape.
Both of the board’s student representatives expressed support of the district joining the lawsuit. Representative Ricardo Martin Del Campo said vaping is common in bathrooms at Prairie High School. His counterpart Sydney Cordon said one of the buildings at Prairie’s campus has a prevalent, continuous smell associated with the use of e-cigarettes.
“It’s very prevalent in the schools,” Cordon said.
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