Superintendents at Daviess County Public Schools and Owensboro Public Schools are recommending their boards file civil lawsuits against the maker of Juul brand vaping devices.
DCPS board members will vote Thursday on a resolution from county schools Superintendent Matt Robbins to file a suit against Juul Labs, the maker of the vaping devices. OPS board members are scheduled to vote on a similar resolution next week recommended by Interim Superintendent Matthew Constant.
Civil lawsuits against Juul Labs have been filed by school districts across the country in states and cities such including Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco. In Kentucky, public school districts in Fayette, Jefferson, Warren, Jessamine, Bullitt and Madison counties have filed a public nuisance lawsuit suit against the company. The city of Louisville has also filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs.
The Kentucky lawsuit is being handled by the Louisville firm of Hendy Johnson Vaughn Emery.
Daviess County’s resolution says vaping and e-cigarette use is “at epidemic levels both locally and nationally,” and Juul’s marketing practices “have targeted kids and teens.”
At an October meeting with parents about e-cigarettes, Rebecca Horn, a health educator with the Green River Area Development District, said e-cigarette pods can contain as much nicotine as three packs of cigarettes.
Horn said, in addition to concerns about juvenile addiction, teen vaping includes the possibilities of permanent lung scarring, asthma, and bacterial and fungal contamination.
A Harvard University study released earlier this year studied 75 vaping products and found 23% of them were contaminated with bacteria and toxins from fungus, USA Today reported.
Robbins said Wednesday that school officials “really feel like it’s a huge danger to (students’) health and their education.” He said he couldn’t quantify how often schools deal with students possessing Juul products, but, “what I can tell you anecdotally is it’s a serious concern for the adults that work in our buildings and school administrators.”
Jared Revlett, spokesman for Owensboro Public Schools, said having e-cigarettes in schools is a problem. E-cigarette products such as Juul devices are often hard to identify and can be completely odorless. An Owensboro Police Department school resource officer for OPS said he encounters students with vaping devices at schools “every day, multiple times a day.”
“It takes away from the educational experience,” Revlett said. Instead of being able to teach, administrators and teachers “are trying to battle something that’s harmful to (students’) well-being.”
When asked under what grounds the county school district could sue, Robbins said, “our damages would result in lost educational time.”
Robbins and Revlett said there would be no cost to the districts if the boards decided to file lawsuits, although working on the lawsuit might require a time commitment from school officials. One board’s decision to file a lawsuit will not be affected if the other board decides to not go forward, Robbins said.
When asked what damages OPS could receive if a lawsuit were successful, Revelett said, “we have no idea what a monetary figure would look like,” but officials would be “sending a message that we are trying to do something, because this is a crisis that affects the health and well-being of our students.”
In a document provided by DCPS, attorney Ronald E. Johnson Jr., of Hendy Johnson Vaughn Emery, told Jefferson County school officials that the goals of pursuing a “public nuisance” lawsuit against Juul would include “to remove e-cigarettes from the marketplace, or at least make them so heavily regulated that it will be impossible to market and sell them to children.”
School districts could also receive “financial compensation … to not only pay for the losses that have already occurred, but to pay for the ongoing problem to having a generation of students addicted to nicotine,” Johnson wrote.
A lawsuit could also “make the business of seeing e-cigarettes so unprofitable and stigmatized that (the) companies will cease to exist,’ Johnson wrote.
Robbins said, “we are not interested in huge financial gains” from a lawsuit. “... What we are hoping to get out of it is protection for our students.”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse