San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office has launched an investigation into the largest e-cigarette manufacturer in the United States that could end up leading to civil and criminal charges against the company responsible for more than three-quarters of the current domestic market.
In a video announcement posted on social media, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said that her office will begin the process of investigating Juul Labs Inc. – a San Francisco-based company that is 35 percent owned by the successor to the Phillip Morris corporation that generates an estimated $2 billion in annual sales – for a pair of violations of the California Business and Professions Code.
“Today we’re going to announce the investigation into the largest distributor of e-cigarettes in the United States of America, currently presiding over 76.1 percent of the market – Juul,” Verber Salazar said in the announcement that was shared on YouTube and distributed by the District Attorney’s Office. “We are going to proceed on a 17200 and 17500 investigation – 17200 is an unfair business practice, it’s a civil remedy for the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office, and 17500 has a dual purpose for false and misleading information being provided to the public which results in harm and we can proceed civilly and criminally on that prospect.
“We will be proceeding with that investigation – we will be looking to support documents in the next 45 days and will evaluate those documents as to what those charges will be going forward.”
Verber Salazar has been pointed in her criticisms of the embattled company – which saw its CEO resign last month after a particularly brutal month of press for the e-cigarette and vaping industry spurred by health concerns and a mysterious illness that has perplexed health experts across the country – and has gone so far as to previously hint at proposing an ordinance that would at least temporarily ban the sale of e-cigarettes in the county. At a Board of Supervisors meeting last month, Verber Salazar called on all business to stop selling the potentially harmful devices, citing the impact on youth that she feels were unfairly targeted through creative advertising and marketing that her office will not investigate to see if it ran afoul of the law.
The announcement and press conference included comments from a Ripon High School student who announced that vaping is an epidemic amongst young people in her community that has reached the point where students have to physically leave the classroom to go and smoke their Juul devices out of the prying eyes of teachers – more often than not in the bathrooms on campus.
The revelation from the Ripon student and one from Contra Costa County that also spoke only reiterated Verber Salazar’s commitment to hold the company accountable for its actions affecting young people.
“Here in San Joaquin County our job is public safety and if you think that you can come into this county and you can harm our youth and we’re not going to fight you back, you’re wrong,” Verber Salazar said of the company that some industry experts believe targeted young people with its advertising and selection of “flavors.” “So today, we fight and we’re asking every other county in the state to fight with us and we’re asking the state to take a stand – a real stand, one that bans this destructive product.
“Because we are not going to sacrifice the youth of San Joaquin County and the great State of California for this mismarketing, misleading, fraudulent journey that Juul has taken our youth on.”
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