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Ogden, Weber school districts to get more than $1M in Juul vaping case

By Tim Vandenack - | Jun 2, 2023

BEN DORGER, Standard-Examiner file photo

Brock Lierd, a worker at Blue Moon Vapors LLC, vapes outside of the shop on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

OGDEN — The Ogden and Weber school districts stand to receive more than $1 million between them as part of the $555 million to go to school systems around the country per a proposed court settlement with Juul Labs, the vaping firm.

Ogden School District would get a gross total of $313,442, but around 30% of that would go to attorneys fees, school officials estimate. That would leave the district with a net amount of around $220,000.

Weber School District would receive a gross total of $1.12 million, according to the settlement proposal, crafted last December and accepted by district officials on March 22. Using the 30% figure from Ogden School District of what would go to attorneys, that would give Weber School District a net settlement of perhaps $790,000.

“We actually haven’t received any money yet. When we do, it will go to preventive programs associated with vaping and substance abuse,” Weber School District spokesman Lane Findlay said in an email. “Vaping is a serious problem in our schools.”

The proposed settlement for much larger Davis School District is $2.43 million. Officials in the district didn’t specify if that’s the gross total, but if it is, the 30% figure for attorneys would reduce that to a net of around $1.7 million.

The three school districts, among 1,489 educational entities across the nation, took part in mass tort lawsuits against Juul Labs, which makes e-cigarette devices and nicotine pods to use with them. The Ogden School District lawsuit, a boilerplate for others, charges that Juul products are “rampant in the nation’s schools” and have caused a public health crisis, created a “new generation of nicotine addicts” and taxed the resources of schools contending with the situation.

Juul products are designed “to create and sustain (nicotine) addiction,” the Ogden School District lawsuit reads, and Juul and the other affiliated defendants “targeted kids as their customer base.” Ogden School District filed its suit on Sept. 3, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Northern California, home to San Francisco-based Juul. Davis School District filed its suit on Feb. 1, 2022, and Weber School District followed on March 28, 2022.

The Frantz Law Group, based in San Diego, represented the various school districts. The law firm is also representing Weber and Davis school districts, among many others, in a separate lawsuit against social media companies like Facebook and TikTok. That suit targets the companies’ purported role in what the petition calls “possibly the most severe mental health crises” U.S. teens have ever faced.

In the Juul matter, Frantz said in its letter to Weber School District officials that the total settlement amounts to $555 million, plus $45 million more if all plaintiffs sign on to the proposed resolution. Of the $555 million, $436 million would go to school districts and educational agencies while $119 million would go to the much smaller number of counties and other entities that also sued.

“In our opinion, this settlement is the best opportunity to receive fair and reasonable compensation for your government entity claims in the foreseeable future,” reads the letter to the Weber School District, provided to the Standard-Examiner in response to a records request.

Separately, Altria Group, part owner of Juul and also named in the suit, announced in May that it had reached a $235 million settlement in the case, but didn’t specify how much individual plaintiffs would receive.

Presuming final approval of the Juul settlement, scheduled for Aug. 9, funding would flow to the varied plaintiffs, including the Utah school districts, starting sometime after Sept. 25. The funds would be distributed gradually in separate installments through 2026.

Juul admits to no wrongdoing, per the proposed settlement. “These documents are not and shall not be construed at any time to be an admission or concession by (Juul) or any other released party of any liability or wrongdoing, or of the truth of any of the government entity plaintiffs’ allegations,” read the settlement documents.

Still, the suit points an accusatory finger at Juul, its parent companies and e-cigarettes.

“Students in plaintiff’s schools have openly charged e-cigarette devices in classrooms, causing disruption and diverting staff resources away from classroom instruction,” reads the Ogden School District suit. “Other students, addicted to nicotine, have demonstrated anxious, distracted and acting out behaviors, causing disruption and diverting staff resources away from classroom instruction and requiring additional time and attention for addicted students.”

Ogden School District spokesman Jer Bates said officials would have to pinpoint how to use any settlement funds. “One option could be purchasing additional vape detection equipment and/or upgrading existing systems. Another option could include anti-vaping initiatives,” Bates said.

Bates said vaping is “a known issue” in some Ogden schools, but he didn’t use the dire language of the lawsuit. “I would not categorize vaping in our schools as a prevalent occurrence. However, as we have a strict zero tolerance policy, we strive to eliminate all instances of vaping as well as possession or use of any other tobacco products, alcohol or illegal drugs in our schools,” he said.

According to the 2021 Student Health and Risk Prevention survey of students, 35.5% of 12th graders in Weber and Morgan counties reported they had vaped at some point in their lifetime compared to 20% in Davis County and 23% statewide. In the 30 days leading up to the survey, 18.4% of 12th graders in Weber and Morgan counties said they had vaped compared to 9.3% in Davis County and 9.7% across Utah.

The survey was completed by the Utah Department of Human Services’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.


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