Payout expected for schools following Juul lawsuit settlement
Jan. 31—Three area school districts that joined a national class-action lawsuit against electronic cigarette manufacturer Juul are expected to receive monetary payouts in the coming months and years.
Kokomo School Corporation, Northwestern School Corporation and Western School Corporation all joined a lawsuit last year that alleged Juul targeted its products toward teens, with fruity flavors and young models.
Vapes are often marketed as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco. However, they still contain nicotine. The highly addictive chemical is damaging to a developing brain.
Juul announced in December 2022 it had settled more than 5,000 cases brought by 10,000 plaintiffs. Plaintiffs included schools, government entities, consumers and those harmed by Juul's products. The lawsuit was originally filed by the San Francisco Unified School District.
By joining the lawsuit, the three Howard County schools are in line for a share of the settlement money. Western Superintendent Mark DuBois said the settlement amount is around $1.5 billion in total. The San Francisco school district will receive the most money.
Schools await settlement amounts
How much other schools will get remains to be seen, though how early a district joined the lawsuit and enrollment are factors.
DuBois said attorneys gave a ballpark figure of $40,000. Some money will be taken off the top for attorney fees. The first allocation is expected later this year, with the rest paid out over the next three years.
Whatever amount Western receives can be used how the school district sees fit. There are no limitations.
"The best thing, personally, would be putting it toward educating our families," DuBois said Tuesday.
Western installed vape detectors in bathrooms and locker rooms at the start of this school year. The sensors detect smoke, humidity and noise.
If the detectors are tampered with, it sounds right away. That, a new camera system and word of mouth have decreased vaping at Western High School by about 80%, according to estimates by Principal Steve Edwards last fall.
Western saw an uptick in vaping last school year. Counselors said many students told them they vaped due to stress, anxiety and depression.
DuBois said joining the lawsuit was a symbolic gesture and show of support.
"I wasn't anticipating any money on it," he said. "It was good to see a victory in that."
Northwestern Superintendent Kristen Bilkey said attorneys told her the district can expect between $20,000 and $30,000, though those are not firm numbers.
"This is a problem for kids, and it is partly because of what Juul did," Bilkey said last year. "They admittedly advertised and sought out young people with the intent of gaining their purchasing power. And it worked."
Kokomo schools said in a statement it has not received any official figure for the settlement.
The settlement is another legal blow to Juul.
The e-cigarette manufacturer has settled lawsuits with other states including North Carolina and Arizona. Most recently, Juul agreed to pay nearly $440 million to settle a two-year investigation by more than 30 states.
Indiana was part of the lawsuit and will receive $15.7 million in payments over the next six to 10 years. The first payment, $1.48 million, is expected later this year.
Money will be used for prevention and education measures.
Terms of the agreement forbid Juul from including people under the age of 35 in advertisements. The company must disclose the amount of nicotine in its products and sell no flavored products until approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA declared underage vaping an epidemic after teen use of e-cigarettes skyrocketed. The rise coincided with Juul's launch in 2015. The FDA banned the company's fruit-flavored products.
Juul could file for bankruptcy as recent settlements have led the company to lay off hundreds of employees.
Another lawsuit working its way through the courts brought by San Francisco Unified School District is against Altria, also for its involvement in e-cigarettes. Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris, which produces Marlboro cigarettes.
The company took on a 35% stake in Juul in 2018.
Altria is likely to settle, which could result in another payout for schools.
Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.