COLUMBIA — A Midlands school district is considering whether to add its name to the hundreds nationwide suing e-cigarette manufacturer Juul.
Richland One trustees unanimously voted Feb. 23 to let Superintendent Craig Witherspoon gather information on legal costs and other details related to possibly joining a class action lawsuit, and could authorize taking legal action against the manufacturer next month.
If that happens, the 24,000-student district would add join several others in the Palmetto State taking suing Juul, including Greenville County and Lexington One. Trustees in Richland County School District Two considered such a move earlier this month, but deadlocked on a 3-3 vote despite support from Superintendent Baron Davis.
Plaintiffs have said Juul’s products are harmful to students, driving up health care costs and disciplinary problems within school districts.
According to Drugwatch, a Florida-based consumer advocacy group, 758 class action suits have been filed against Juul as of July 2020, with many claiming that its marketing practices target minors, though company officials have denied the allegation.
But the health effects of e-cigarette consumption are clear, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
A February 2020 agency report found more than 2,8000 people across the country were hospitalized because of lung complications tied to e-cigarettes, with 68 deaths. And a 2019 survey of youth tobacco use concluded that 22 percent of South Carolina teens used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
Juul launched an assembly plant in Lexington County in May 2019 to make e-cigarettes, a project that was expected to employ about 500 people. But the company closed it down in November, citing poor market conditions among strong political pushback.
The closure also affected Flex, an international electronics manufacturer that was a subcontractor to the vaping company with a West Columbia site next to the Juul plant near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Before the Juul deal, Flex had about 230 full-time employees producing products for other industries.
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