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San Diego Schools Sue Juul Labs Over Youth Vaping Epidemic

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San Diego Unified School District alleges that vaping-related illnesses caused by the e-cigarette maker's products increase student absences, forcing schools to spend on prevention and treatment.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego unified school district is jumping on the bandwagon of lawsuits against the vaping company. Jewel. The district has filed a lawsuit claiming damages from absenteeism and the cost of outreach programs aimed at stopping student vaping. A state study has found that 4% of seventh graders and 7% of 11th graders in San Diego unified schools have reported using vaping devices. Jewel is the largest vaping device company in the U S it recently stopped selling flavored nicotine products. And joining me is Richard Barrera, a member of the San Diego unified school board. And Richard, welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:39 Thank you Maureen.

Speaker 1: 00:41 On what legal grounds is San Diego unified suing jewel?

Speaker 2: 00:46 Well, we see the practices of jewel as intentionally marketing to underage, uh, users as predatory and, and we will defend our students against, uh, you know, a, a major corporation that's trying to, uh, you know, targeted them and, and frankly attack their health and their future. And so, and so we are filing a lawsuit and that's consistent with other, um, school districts around California and around the country. And you know, the basic argument that we're making is by targeting our students. And by directly impacting their health and their ability to learn, um, they're also impacting the district. You know, we have to spend money on outreach programs, education programs on things like, uh, vaping detectors, uh, video surveillance. Um, but more importantly, when our students health stuffers, they're often missing school. I and missing school affects their learning and of course affects, you know, our, our, our funding. So, you know, we are defending our students and we are, uh, you know, sending a message, uh, to jewel that when you attack our kids, uh, our school district is going to fight back.

Speaker 1: 02:08 Does the district have a dollar figure on how much money it claims it lost from absences that are allegedly caused by jewel?

Speaker 2: 02:16 Yeah. Marine as our last season. Who forward, uh, you know, we will put together those numbers and that won't be obviously included in, um, in what we and what we bring. But what we do know for instance is, you know, the [inaudible] that you just mentioned, you know, about the wires, you know, numbers of students that are in our district that I would self reporting as, as, uh, using vaping products. And we also know that the increase in the number of students that has been using, uh, vaping products over the last year is a larger increase than we've ever seen with any other substance, whether it's tobacco or alcohol or you know, other, other types of drugs that the continued marketing and exploitation of our students by jewel and other vaping companies is not only having an impact now that we're seeing and that, you know, has been a rapidly rising impact over the last year. But if we don't do something, it's going to continue. And we're worried that, you know, we're going to see more and more students, um, you know, become addicted to these products and see their health and their education suffer.

Speaker 1: 03:23 Do we know if that state survey found that students were vaping, nicotine or marijuana?

Speaker 2: 03:29 It could be a combination of, of both. And, and the tools, you know, the, the, the products that, uh, you know, that these companies market, uh, you know, to young people, uh, you know, to be able to use vaping. It's very insidious. You know, we actually have students who are doing research and, um, you know, projects, uh, to help build awareness, you know, among their peers. But you look at the packaging for instance, of these products and it looks like, you know, it looks like an Apple product. It looks, you know, the boxes look like something that you might see an iPhone come out of. I mean, they're very, very intentionally, um, you know, packaging and marketing in a way that they know will appeal to young people.

Speaker 1: 04:15 Now in a statement, jewel says it's working to stop underage use of its products, saying it's working quote with attorneys, general regulators, public health officials and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes unquote. Now, if jewel is doing what it says and miners can't legally purchase these products, how could they be held accountable for teens if they are accessing them on the black market?

Speaker 2: 04:44 Well, it's obvious that what Joel is doing is marketing products, you know, intentionally to underage users. I mean, they can make these sorts of statements that they're working to combat underage, uh, you know, uh, vaping by that first of all is obviously in response to outrage, you know, that has been building up, you know, from local communities around the country as we've seen the impacts including fatalities in, you know, of, of, of young people from the use of these products. You know, it reminds me of the Joe camel, uh, you know, uh, effort, you know, by, uh, tobacco companies, you know, creating, you know, sort of marketing material that's obviously intended to reach and, and, uh, and subject young people to addiction so that they, you know, are forced to become lifelong customers to these types of products.

Speaker 1: 05:38 Later today, County board of supervisors, Fletcher and Jacobs, they're scheduled to discuss their proposal to crack down on the sale of a flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes. They're also expected to disclose the latest vaping related illness in San Diego County. And I'm wondering, what would you like to see local health officials take?

Speaker 2: 06:00 Well, I think, I think the fact that local health officials, including the County board of supervisors here in San Diego are stepping up with these types of proposals is exactly the kind of work, uh, you know, the kind of effort that we want to see in the schools. You know, the more that, you know, these types of products can be regulated and in fact, you know, severely restricted, um, you know, to be made available at all, you know, to anybody in San Diego is going to be extremely helpful in, um, making it a harder for young people, you know, to be able to access these products, were extremely supportive of those efforts by, by the County.

Speaker 1: 06:42 I've been speaking with San Diego unified school board member, Richard Barrera. Richard. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 06:47 Thanks so much. Maureen.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.