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Juul allegedly shipped 1 million contaminated vaping products

Juul sent to market 1 million contaminated mint-flavored nicotine pods earlier this year and didn’t recall them after learning about the problem in March, according to a new lawsuit filed against Juul by a former executive there. It’s just one of many actions against public health taken by the company, the lawsuit alleges.

In another revelation, the plaintiff — Juul’s former senior vice president for global finance, Siddharth Breja — says he raised concerns that the company was reselling nearly expired product and suggested adding an expiration or “best by” date on Juul’s packaging. Again, Breja claims, Juul didn’t act.

The company’s ex-CEO, Kevin Burns, was reluctant to do anything, the lawsuit alleges, quoting him as saying, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods.”

In a statement, Burns denied ever saying this. “As CEO, I had the company make huge investments in product quality, and the facts will show this claim is absolutely false and pure fiction.”

The lawsuit — first reported by BuzzFeed News — was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California by Breja. He says he was fired on March 21 “for whistleblowing and objecting to the contaminated pod shipment and other illegal and unsafe conduct that has jeopardized and continues to jeopardize public health and safety and the lives of millions of consumers, many of them children and teens.”

In a statement, a Juul spokesperson called Breja’s claims “baseless” and said he was terminated “because he failed to demonstrate the leadership qualities needed in his role. The allegations concerning safety issues with Juul products are equally meritless, and we already investigated the underlying manufacturing issue and determined the product met all applicable specifications. The company will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

In December last year, the cigarette maker and parent company of Philip Morris USA, Altria, purchased a 35 percent stake in Juul, making the company’s value a staggering $38 billion. As part of the deal, Juul distributed a whopping $2 billion in bonuses to its 1,500 employees, averaging $1.3 million per person. Juul is still the leading US e-cigarette manufacturer.

But Juul’s fortunes are turning. Amid the vaping-related lung injury epidemic sweeping the US and new data showing adolescent e-cigarette use is soaring, federal prosecutors in California are investigating the company. So are the Federal Trade Commission, several state attorneys general, several congressional committees, and the FDA.

The company plans to lay off 500 employees by the end of the year, and it recently suspended its broadcast, print, and digital advertising in the US. It also halted its flavored product sales in America and promised to refrain from lobbying against the FDA’s proposed ban on e-cigarette flavors.

Juul’s ex-CEO ran the company in a “win-at-all-costs, reckless fashion”

Selling contaminated and nearly expired products were just one of the damning allegations in the lawsuit. Breja paints an alarming portrait of Burns, Juul’s former CEO who stepped down in September, saying he ran the company in a “win-at-all-costs, reckless fashion.” Executives were not allowed to mention regulatory or safety concerns in writing — over text, email, or internal messages, Breja claims, in an apparent effort to conceal information from the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates e-cigarette products.

Juul also misrepresents its nicotine content by saying each pod is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, the lawsuit alleges. But, Breja points out, “Studies have shown that JUUL’s pods contain significantly higher concentrations of nicotine than that of cigarettes and absorption rates that are up to four times higher than that of cigarettes.”

For now, Juul remains the leading e-cigarette manufacturer in the US, selling a product that many believe has fueled the epidemic of adolescent use. Teens and young adults are the groups most affected by the lung injury outbreak, which now includes 1,604 cases and 34 deaths. Although black-market THC vapes have been implicated in the majority of cases, a subset of patients claim to have only used nicotine e-cigarettes, including Juul. What role the company, or its potentially contaminated products, plays in the outbreak, however, remains to be seen.

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