The Manhattan-Ogden school board will vote on suing e-cigarette manufacturer Juul for its alleged role in the national teen vaping epidemic.
The board meets 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Robinson Education Center.
The board began considering a lawsuit in early November when Eric Barton, a lawyer with Kansas City law firm Wagstaff and Carmel, LLP, and a Manhattan High School alumnus, presented the board with the option to sue the e-cigarette manufacturer.
Barton said the company’s aggressive marketing strategies have targeted minors, and the nicotine products are more efficient and addictive than regular cigarettes. Public health officials have cautioned that e-cigarette use, or vaping, carries many of the same health risks as regular cigarette use, and the long-term effects of e-cigarette use are still unknown, given the products’ recent prominence.
At Manhattan-Ogden schools, e-cigarette use has surged in the past three years, according to the Kansas Communities That Care survey, an anonymous survey administered to the district’s 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders. E-cigarette use was up to 18% at Manhattan High School in 2019, more than triple the 5.4% of high schoolers who had reported using e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey in 2017, the first year the survey was administered.
Any lawsuit against Juul would seek to recoup the district’s costs in dealing with the epidemic, including additional staff time spent on monitoring, investigating and disciplining teens who vape. Using the public nuisance legal theory, which courts have previously accepted in suits against opioid manufacturers, the district could hold Juul responsible for the negative effects resulting from their use of deceptive practices to promote addictive products that create negative impacts in the district.
With a vote to sue Juul, the school board would join several other school districts across the country in stand-alone lawsuits against the manufacturer, although the courts could grant the collective lawsuits class action status in the future, Barton said in November.
The board also will consider purchasing a 2019 Chevy Equinox for $21,636 and a 10-passenger Ford Transit van for $26,451 to transport students when using a bus isn’t feasible.