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Lawsuit From Fired Juul Executive Claims Company Knowingly Shipped 1 Million Tainted Nicotine Pods

Siddharth Breja, a former senior vice president of global finance for Juul, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday based on claims that he was retaliated against for raising concerns about the contaminated shipment. Breja describes a “reckless” and “win-at-all costs” culture at Juul, primarily driven by the company’s former CEO, Kevin Burns, who was replaced in a management shake-up last month. A Juul spokesman said in a statement that the claims are “baseless.”

The Associated Press:
Former Juul Exec Alleges Company Shipped Tainted Products

A Juul Labs executive who was fired earlier this year is alleging that the vaping company knowingly shipped 1 million tainted nicotine pods to customers. The allegation comes in a lawsuit filed Tuesday by lawyers representing Siddharth Breja, a one-time finance executive at the e-cigarette maker. The suit claims that Breja was terminated after opposing company practices, including shipping the contaminated flavored pods and not listing expiration dates on Juul products. (Perrone, 10/30)

BuzzFeed News:
Juul Shipped At Least A Million Contaminated Nicotine Pods, New Lawsuit Says

Breja says he was worried when the company, in February 2019, wanted to resell pods that were at that point almost one year old. He protested their resale and urged the company to at least include an expiration or “best by” date, or a date of manufacture, on the packaging. The lawsuit claims that then-CEO Kevin Burns shot down that idea, saying, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods.” (Lee, 10/29)

The New York Times:
Juul Knowingly Sold Tainted Nicotine Pods, Former Executive Says

Mr. Breja detailed a culture of indifference to safety and quality-control issues among top executives at the company and quoted the then-chief executive Kevin Burns saying at a meeting in February: “Half our customers are drunk and vaping” and wouldn’t “notice the quality of our pods.” Mr. Burns, who left the company in September, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon strongly disputing the quote. “I never said this, or anything remotely close to this, period,” the statement said. “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.” (Kaplan and HOffman, 10/30)

Former Juul Executive Sues Over Retaliation, Claims Company Knowingly Sold Tainted Pods

Breja alleges that Burns took a “win-at-all costs” approach to running Juul, telling employees who challenged him that there could “only be one king at Juul,” and that “king” was him. Burns allegedly once told Breja and other executives to “tell that motherf—– that I’ll take him out of the room and shoot him with a shotgun if he challenges my decisions.” (LaVito, 10/30)

The Washington Post:
Juul Sold 1 Million Contaminated Vaping Pods, Lawsuit Says

Juul is already facing scores of lawsuits and federal scrutiny stemming from allegations it created a youth vaping epidemic. Meanwhile, medical officials are scrambling to unravel a rash of lung illnesses tied to vaping devices that have sickened more than 1,600 users and caused 34 deaths, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although many of the cases have been linked to black market THC products, public health officials have not ruled out nicotine-based e-cigarettes as a culprit. The panic has caused seven states and several cities, including San Francisco, where Juul is headquartered, to restrict e-cigarettes to various degrees. (Telford, 10/30)

Fidelity Fund Says Value Of Juul Stake Declined 48%

Fidelity Investments slashed the estimated value of its stake in Juul Labs Inc. amid a government crackdown on the e-cigarette company. The Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund disclosed online that the value of its Juul shares plunged about 48% during September. The fund held almost two-thirds of the 4.1 million Juul shares that Fidelity reported owning on a combined basis at the end of July. (Weiss, Alexander and Moore, 10/30)

In other news on the vaping crisis —

One Town’s Flavor Ban Seemed To Work To Cut Youth Vaping

Limiting kids’ access to flavored tobacco products like e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and cigars seems to work, according to a new study that looks at two towns that took different approaches to vaping in Massachusetts. That will come as good news to the governments that are adding more restrictions on flavors. (Christensen, 10/24)

More Than 50 Organizations Pressure Trump Administration To Follow Through With Vaping Flavor Ban

More than 50 health and advocacy groups are sending a clear message in letters to US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and first lady Melania Trump: Stick with the plan that was announced last month that would require e-cigarette companies to take their flavored products off the market, including mint and menthol. According to an announcement Tuesday, the groups are responding to recent media reports that the Trump administration could back down from its earlier stance by including exceptions for mint and menthol. (Rogers and Nedelman, 10/29)

Modern Healthcare:
Doctors Call For More Vaping Regulation

Leading medical organizations urged Congress and the Trump administration to increase the regulation of vaping products on Wednesday.The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians want more e-cigarette regulation because they’re worried about the short- and long-term health consequences of vaping, especially for children. They asked Congress and the administration to ban flavored vaping products, including mint and menthol flavors, and raise the national age to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21. (Brady, 10/30)

As Big Tobacco Defends Itself In Court, It Gets Help From Academics

In 1998, major tobacco companies reached a historic legal settlement with states that had sued them over the health care costs of smoking-related illnesses. But individual smokers have continued to sue, and to this day the tobacco industry remains tied up in hundreds of court fights with sickened smokers, or with family members who lost a loved one to cancer, heart disease, or other smoking-related illness. These days, tobacco companies no longer try to claim that cigarettes aren’t harmful — in fact, in an ironic reversal, a favorite legal defense in current cases is the argument that nearly everyone was aware of the dangers, even back in the 1950s. (Farmer, 10/30)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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