TAMPA, Fla. - E-cigarette maker Juul will pay $438.5 million to settle an investigation into whether it fueled teenage vaping. The company still faces hundreds of other lawsuits, including from teens who claim they were addicted to the product.
A two-year investigation into Juul found the e-cigarette company deliberately marketed its products to young people. FDA studies showed Juul was one of the most popular nicotine products used by kids and teens.
"I started off with like hits every once in a while, but then I always had it in my hand," said Walker McKnight, who said vaping destroyed his health.
At 19 years old, McKnight needed double lung and kidney transplants after developing a serious respiratory injury.
"If you could just get a glimpse of what some people have to go through, just from what this has caused, I don’t think anyone would vape," he said.
Dr. Jasmine Reese, the director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, said vaping is a big problem with teens.
"They will often report that it is difficult for them to stop vaping, because they feel very addicted to it," she said.
Besides being highly addictive, Reese said vape products can be harmful, affecting brain development and causing respiratory issues. E-cigarettes are usually small and easy to hide, and flavors like mango, fruit and mint are popular among youths.
"Sometimes it's kind of the cool factor," Reese said. "If your friends are doing it, perhaps you want to experiment with it to be part of that crowd. But a lot of times it really is to sort of mask the mood effects or to really treat their own anxiety or feelings of depression."
She said it is important to understand why teens are vaping, and focus on empowering them to make healthy decisions for themselves.
"I really want to encourage parents to ask their teens about vaping, educate their teens about vaping, let it be an open dialog and a conversation," she said.
On Tuesday, the Polk County School Board voted to sue Juul. The school district now joins Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in a national class action lawsuit.