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Baltimore County to join other Maryland counties suing e-cigarette maker over advertising practices

Baltimore County is going to sue e-cigarette maker Juul Labs and its affiliated companies over claims that it marketed its products to children.

The County Council on Monday night approved a contract with a Florida-based law firm that is representing Montgomery, Howard, Frederick, Garrett and Anne Arundel counties in litigation against the multi billion-dollar company. Baltimore County attorney James Benjamin Jr. told the council working with the same firm representing other counties “will result in a stronger and more cohesive case.”

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The Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd firm is representing several counties nationwide in a lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturers “to recover damages for the harms incurred as a result of the alleged deceptive and fraudulent marketing practices." The earlier lawsuits alleged, among other things, violations of Maryland’s public nuisance laws and violations of the federal racketeering statutes known as RICO.

Likewise, the earlier lawsuits alleged the e-cigarette company used social media “influencers” and hashtags and took out ads on youth-centered websites, allowing it to “operate an even more pervasive, insidious, and successful viral marketing campaign than its predecessors in the tobacco industry."

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Efforts to reach Juul Labs Monday for comment on the lawsuit were unsuccessful.

Last year, Maryland prohibited the sale of tobacco products — including e-cigarettes — to those ages 18 to 21, but carved out an exemption for members of the military.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September released findings from the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey showing that 1.8 million fewer young Americans are currently using e-cigarettes compared to last year. However, the survey showed 3.6 million young people are still using e-cigarettes, and more than 8 out of 10 young e-cigarette users reported use of flavored products.

On Sept. 9, Juul Labs said in a press release that they “remain committed to working with regulators and stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.” The company also voiced support for the federal legislation that prohibits the saleof tobacco products to anyone under 21.

Benjamin, the county’s attorney, said litigation costs will only be paid out of any judgments or settlements from the litigation. The costs will include $5,000 in computer research expenses, county fiscal notes show.

The County Council has previously asked a federal judge to force agriculture chemical company Monsanto to pay for the cleanup of environmental toxins submerged in the county’s water bodies in 2019. Baltimore County also announced plans to file a federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of opioids in 2018.

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