PRINCETON – Members of the Mercer County Commission voted Tuesday to join a lawsuit calling for the vaping industry to stop marketing its products to teenagers and to help with future prevention of vaping and the cessation of addiction.
Attorney Rusty Webb of the Webb Law Center spoke by teleconference with the Mercer County Commission about the JUUL Lawsuit. Webb said that the JUUL Lawsuit is similar to the one filed against pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market opioid pain medications.
In the JUUL Lawsuit, it is argued that manufacturers of e-cigarettes – JUUL being the leading manufacturer – has been marketing vaping “to teenagers as safer and less addictive than cigarettes,” Webb said. “It’s addicting children because of the marketing practices.”
The second thing the JUUL Lawsuit has in common with the opioid litigation is that the request is not for money spent in the past, Webb said. The goal is to “abate and prevent it in the future,” to have the companies change their marketing practices.
“The idea is to tell the court what funds it will take in the future for prevention and cessation of addiction,” Webb said.
Webb had statistics relating to vaping. Between 2017 and 2019, there has been a 150 percent increase in the number of high school students using e-cigarettes, he said. As of 2019, 35.7 percent of the country’s high school students were using e-cigarettes.
“Much like the opioid lawsuit, this focuses on the miscommunication from a product that is harmful to youth and communities,” Commissioner Greg Puckett said. “Billed as a cessation device and a safer alternative to smoking, it’s created a destructive environment that breeds additional addiction.”
Webb said that it was hoped that Mercer County would be the first county in West Virginia to join the lawsuit.
“We want Mercer County to lead and the others to join in,” he stated. “When I say others, I mean all remaining county commissions, all remaining school boards and all remaining boards of health. We plan to file as soon as the contract is signed.”
Joining the lawsuit would not cost Mercer County anything, Webb said.
“It’s not going to cost them a dime,” he said. “It’s not going to cost any of these entities a dime if they wish to file.”
“When we do these cases, we take all the risks,” Webb told the commissioners, adding that costs such as investigators, who can charge $35 an hour, are deducted at the end of the lawsuit as expenses.
“Again, no risk to you,” he said. “If we don’t prevail, we don’t get a judgement, we eat all of that expense.”
Commissioner Bill Archer and Puckett voted for the resolution to join the suit. County Commission President Gene Buckner voted not to do so. The motion passed.
“There’s a part of the contract that says (Webb Law Center) get 33 percent of the gross collection and if they spend any money as far as detectives or anybody else who does outside work, they get paid $35 an hour,” Buckner said. “It’s coming out of the gross income, which is what the county would get out of it.”
Instead, the law firm should get “33 percent off the top and leave the rest of it alone,” Buckner said.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org