Just a few weeks after Juul Labs’ largest investor implicated it, the Altria corporation has opted to settle with San Francisco public schools for their alleged role in fueling a youth vaping crisis. The decision came the day after the plaintiffs rested their case, according to Law360.
The San Francisco school district had been pursuing a case against Altria Group Inc as a major stakeholder in Juul Labs, an e-cigarette manufacturer that has been accused of marketing its nicotine products to minors. By supporting Juul, the school district argued that Altria had committed the civil wrongs of negligence, racketeering, and contributing to a public nuisance in San Francisco public schools. The district was seeking to recoup damages allegedly suffered by the state, a mission that has resulted in a $235 million settlement with the corporation.
While the exact details of the settlement have not been disclosed to the public at this time, it will likely include a clause that prevents Altria from having to accept liability for the San Francisco school district’s allegations, a position the corporation has maintained throughout the trial. Altria’s defense has been that although it did acquire a 35% stake in Juul Labs that did result in very high profits, the Altria Group had no direct oversight or control over how Juul Labs chose to market its product.
This defense was slightly undercut by evidence presented during the deposition of Riaz Valani, Juul’s largest investor, in which he described an email he received from James Monsees, the co-founder of Juul, which at this point was called Ploom. In that email, Monsees wrote, "I think where Ploom comes in is for maintaining the youth market."
Now, with Altria’s settlement with the San Francisco school district and Juul’s settlement in 2022, the only remaining claims in the current litigation are those brought by Native American tribes against Juul and Altria.