TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Tucson Unified School District is taking a stand against e-cigarette giant, JUUL.
The TUSD Governing Board voted unanimously Wednesday to join litigation against the company for the damage manufacturers have done to the district’s resources and safe learning environment.
“There’s no getting around the fact this is a monumental problem that has escalated just within the last two, three years and it’s really starting to be a resource drain at the district level," said Jonathan Kieffer, an attorney with Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP representing the district.
Keiffer told the board districts across the country are dealing with the same problems caused by the vaping industry and the products targeted at teens.
As of Oct. 8, 1,299 lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products have been reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, 26 deaths have been confirmed in 21 states.
None of those deaths are in Arizona, but there have been 12 cases of vaping-related respiratory illness reported to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Along with the health risk for students, Keiffer said school districts are now dealing with a growing diversion of staff distraction to the school’s educational mission.
“This litigation is to recoup for districts monies that it will take to address harm to their budgets that has already occurred and to help mediate and abate the problem on a going forward basis to hopefully eliminate it in short order," Keiffer said.
TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said the problem plaguing public schools across the country is a growing concern in district classrooms.
“It is the most disruptive behavioral situation we deal with in high schools," Trujillo said. “Confiscating product, calling parents, taking teachers out of classrooms to fill out witness statements, searching backpacks, routing students to social workers for tobacco prevention programs, I mean I can go on and on and on.”
It’s also a problem that impacts the district’s wallet.
“There is so much time and resources going towards this that we cannot afford,” said TUSD board member Leila Counts.
While it was discussed as a class action lawsuit, Keiffer described the litigation as a “mass action lawsuit,” with the multiple individual lawsuits to be consolidated by a committee of lawyers, presided over by one judge.
There is no cost for the district to join the litigation. If there is a financial recovery obtained in favor of the school districts, TUSD will share the damages and attorney fees component.
“All they are trying to do is keep kids safe and fulfill their mission to educate the next generation and this has kind of become a plague on them,” Kieffer said.