Minnesota settles historic e-cigarette lawsuit with JUUL and Altria
Minnesota first state in nation to go to trial to hold JUUL and Altria accountable for deceptive e-cigarette marketing
April 17, 2023 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced his office has settled its case against JUUL and Altria for deceptively marketing e-cigarettes, which became popular among Minnesota’s youth. Of the more than a dozen states and hundreds of local governments that have sued JUUL, Minnesota was the first to go to trial.
In 2019, Attorney General Ellison sued JUUL on behalf of the people of Minnesota for violating Minnesota’s consumer-protection laws, breaching its duty of reasonable care, and creating a public nuisance. When Minnesota sued JUUL, the epidemic of youth vaping was reaching its peak in Minnesota and across the country. Prior to JUUL’s emergence, Minnesota had been experiencing the lowest levels of youth tobacco use in decades and those numbers were still declining when the e-cigarette industry — which JUUL dominated with a majority share of the market — wiped out the State’s hard-earned progress in combatting youth tobacco use.
The State’s 2019 lawsuit detailed how JUUL developed sleek devices and flavors that were appealing to youth, and how JUUL’s youth-oriented marketing deceptively attracted and addicted young people. In 2020, Minnesota amended its complaint to include Altria as a defendant: in 2018, Altria spent $12.8 billion to acquire a 35% share in JUUL. Last month, the court’s denial of defendants’ motions for summary judgment ensured the case would go to trial.
The trial began on March 28 as Attorney General Ellison delivered the first part of the State’s opening statement. The State presented 11 witnesses in support of its claims against JUUL and Altria before Attorney General Ellison rested the State’s case on April 11.
As with many cases, including other JUUL settlements, the terms of the settlement will be kept confidential until formal papers are publicly filed with the court. It is anticipated that the papers will be publicly filed in 30 days, at which time the specific terms of the settlement will be made public.
Attorney General Ellison released the following statement:
In Minnesota, the health and safety of our children is of paramount importance. And yet, JUUL products exposed a whole new generation of kids to the addictive and dangerous drug nicotine. After three weeks of trial highlighting and bringing into the public record the actions that JUUL and Altria took that contributed to the youth vaping epidemic, we reached a settlement in the best interest of Minnesotans.
Right now, the terms of the final settlement are not public, but we will announce them soon. When we do, it will be alongside those harmed, the community, elected officials, and others responsible for protecting our children.
We followed in the footsteps of former Attorney General Skip Humphrey, who led the historic 1998 tobacco trial in Minnesota. Once again, Minnesota has demonstrated leadership in taking these cases head on, including going to trial to hold tobacco companies accountable, protect our community’s health, and protect our kids. One of my goals in bringing this case was to send a message: we will not tolerate youth marketing of nicotine products in Minnesota. My office will continue to do its part to protect kids from getting hooked on these harmful products.
I want to thank our trial team, including our assistant attorneys general and attorneys from Robins Kaplan and Zimmerman Reed. The State and local agencies that have been taking on the youth vaping trend for years, including the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Human Services, have done tremendous work and have my deep gratitude. Finally, I want to express my appreciation to Judge Laurie J. Miller and the members of the jury, who spent three weeks diligently listening to the evidence.