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Massapequa teen sues vape-maker Juul, citing addiction 

A selection of the popular Juul brand vaping

A selection of the popular Juul brand vaping supplies on display in the window of a vaping store in New York on March 24, 2018. Credit: TNS/Richard B. Levine

A Massapequa teenager has filed a lawsuit against Juul, the nation’s largest maker of vaping products, arguing the company hooked him on flavored e-cigarettes when he was 15 years old through deceptive marketing and advertising.

The 46-page lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Central Islip on behalf of Shawn Hochhauser, now 19, who says he suffers from debilitating medical problems because of his addiction to the tobacco-flavored liquid products.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, names as defendants Juul Labs Inc. and tobacco producers Altria and Philip Morris, which have a 35 percent ownership in the vaping company.

The suit contends Hochhauser never smoked conventional cigarettes but was attracted to vaping in high school because of "misleading advertising" on social media and local stores. He soon became hooked on the mango-flavored pods and still uses mint-flavored electronic cigarettes, the suit said.

"When he began purchasing JUUL e-cigarettes, he believed, based on JUUL’s advertisements and marketing, that these products were safe for use, were safer than conventional cigarettes, and would not cause adverse health effects," the suit states. 

The lawsuit contends that Juul "fraudulently and unlawfully" marketed its products to minors using themes including "sexuality, popularity, parties, social events, celebrity, and being cool."

Before learning of the adverse health consequences of e-cigarettes, Hochhauser said he smoked one to two full pods per day. Hochhauser now has severe health effects from the intense vaping, including severe coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, increased mucus, throat irritation, and vocal changes, the suit alleges.

The filing contends that Hochhauser "would not have purchased JUUL products had he known that they were highly addictive, contained nicotine in concentrations more potent than conventional cigarettes, and/or could cause adverse health effects."

The suit seeks "reasonable and adequate compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, financial harm, medical expenses, and disfigurement."

Mara Hochhauser, the plaintiff's mother, declined to comment, telling a Newsday reporter to contact the attorneys who filed the case.

Attorneys with Klafter Olsen & Lesser, a Rye Brook firm, and Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins of New Jersey, who together filed the suit, did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, Juul said the case was without merit.

"JUUL Labs is committed to eliminating combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world," said company spokesman Austin Finan. "Our product has always only been intended to be a viable alternative for the one billion current adult smokers in the world. We have never marketed to youth and do not want any non-nicotine users to try our products."

The lawsuit is one of at least 160 filed against the vaping goliath in state and federal courts nationwide since 2018, according to court filings. Similar suits have been filed in recent months by Juul users in Nassau and Manhattan, records show. 

The suit comes amid escalating backlash against vaping nationwide. Last month, New York became the first state to ban most flavored vaping liquids, followed by Michigan, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And President Donald Trump has said the federal government will ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes.

Public health officials are investigating a dozen deaths nationwide, and more than 800 cases of breathing ailments and lung illnesses, that are believed to be related to e-cigarettes. At least 28 vaping-related cases are on Long Island, representatives of local hospitals said.

Many of the victims are minors, officials said. Nearly 40 percent of high school seniors and 27 percent of high school students overall in New York vape, according to the state Health Department.

Juul announced last month that it would will no longer promote its e-cigarettes in print, digital and TV ads while Kevin Burns, the company's chief executive, would step down and be replaced by a senior executive from Altria.

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