Views from Kansas: Suing Juul is a good idea

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

We don’t pretend to know how a court case will play out, but we’re encouraged to see an attempt to hold vaping companies to account.

The Olathe school district was expected on Friday to approve a lawsuit against Juul, the maker of the little electronic gizmos through which people inhale nicotine vapor. We would encourage other districts to seriously consider that tactic.

Vapes — the term used to refer to the gizmos — are legal products. In fact, they initially seemed like a good alternative for people addicted to regular cigarettes, in the sense that they did not contain as many cancer-causing elements. “Second-hand smoke” is also not nearly the issue for vapes, since the byproduct is essentially water vapor. Those facts remain true.

But they are still addictive, since they typically include nicotine. And the other chemicals in them have largely unknown effects. Some vape cartridges contain THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes the high, although those would be illegal in Kansas and other states that still have laws against pot use. Recently, some vapes appear to have caused serious respiratory problems and even deaths, although that appears to be linked to some sort of contaminant in the vape cartridge.

We’re getting a little sidetracked. The point is that vapes are addictive, and they’ve been marketed to kids, and so we have an epidemic on our hands of young people using them. Schools have been forced to deal with that epidemic, including countless hours of staff time and, in some cases, the purchase of new equipment. Witness recent forums just to educate parents about what to look for and what to do when their kids start the habit.

Thus far, it’s the taxpayers who have to foot the bill for that time and equipment.

That seems fundamentally unfair. The companies who make that product and have marketed it to young people ought to bear some of the burden. Or at least it seems like a court ought to review whether the companies should.

We recognize that there’s a slippery-slope element to this argument. If we stretch it too far, we’d be arguing that Apple, Snapchat and Facebook ought to underwrite all the staff time used to counteract the addictive effects of their endorphin-jolting digital services.

Well, look. Vape companies obviously knew they were selling an addictive product, and they assertively sold them to young people. At least, it seems worth litigating whether they ought to be required to take some financial responsibility for the consequences.

— Originally published in The Manhattan Mercury


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