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LPS plans to join other school districts suing company that makes vaping products

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Lincoln Public Schools will be the first Nebraska school district to join 250 districts across the country in suing a company for allegedly targeting the sale of its popular vaping products to young people.

The Lincoln Board of Education on Tuesday gave its lawyers the go-ahead to file a federal lawsuit as part of an effort to hold Juul Labs Inc. accountable for allegedly creating a highly addictive product and targeting young people with fruity and minty flavors and easily concealed pods.

Called a mass-action litigation, LPS will file a lawsuit drafted by a California law firm in U.S. District Court in Nebraska that will be consolidated with lawsuits from 22 states in a California federal court.

William Shinoff, with Frantz Law Group and the lead attorney on the case, said the lawsuits were filed separately because the harm caused to districts — given the differences of size and location — differs, but they’ll be consolidated for purposes of litigation.

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Nationally, the number of 12th graders who reported consuming nicotine doubled between 2017 and 2018, and in 2019, more than 5 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes, according to lawsuits filed by other school districts.

At LPS, the number of students caught possessing or using vaping products more than doubled from the 2017-18 school year (139) to 2019-20 (376), according to district officials. In comparison, just 62 students were caught using or possessing tobacco products in each of those years.

In 2019-20 — when students were in school for only three quarters of the year because of the pandemic — 390 students were caught vaping or possessing vaping products, compared with just 39 with tobacco.

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Shinoff, who represented southern California school districts for nine years before joining the Frantz lawsuit, said all his clients saw the surge in vaping, after years of work to reduce tobacco use by students.

He said an investigation into Juul has revealed how it targeted its highly addictive product to minors through social media marketing and the flavors it created, following a similar philosophy once used by tobacco companies: if you addict young customers, you create a customer for life.

“The issue spilled over onto school campuses, disrupting the learning environment,” he said. “When a company creates something like this, they have to be held accountable.”

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The lawsuits seek monetary damages to help schools with prevention efforts such as vaping detectors, supervision, counselors and education efforts.

The lawsuits also seek injunctive relief to stop the company from marketing to young people, including making pods in appealing flavors.

Jim Gessford, an attorney who represents LPS, said one of the advantages for the district is that the lawsuit will be filed on a contingent basis, which means, other than filing fees, LPS will pay nothing unless the lawsuit is successful. He said the lawsuit likely will be filed within the next three months. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or

On Twitter @LJSreist


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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a recovering education reporter now writing about local and county government and the people who live in the city where she was born and raised.

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