A Wichita-area school district plans to sue the makers, distributors and sellers of electronic cigarettes and vaping products, which has become a "growing crisis" because of its popularity with students, officials said.
Goddard school district officials announced the plan Tuesday, a day after the school board unanimously passed a resolution allowing a Kansas City law firm to sue on the district's behalf, The Wichita Eagle reported.
School board President Kevin McWhorter said school officials believe vaping is becoming a crisis in schools.
"We have found that it (vaping) is disruptive to our education process on a daily basis. And we believe that it is our responsibility as a school district to protect the kids from what we feel is a ... growing crisis," McWhorter said.
The district doesn't plan to seek class-action status when it files the lawsuit in the next few weeks. But McWhorter said the hope is that other schools and jurisdictions will file similar litigation.
Superintendent Justin Henry said the law firm of Wagstaff and Cartmell recently approached the district about filing the lawsuit. He said his brother is a lawyer at the firm, but two other attorneys are working with the district on the lawsuit.
A Kansas Department of Education survey of 2,000 high school students in 2017 found that 32.2% had tried vaping.
"It's a big issue," Henry said. "It's them (kids) doing it, how it's impacting their brain now and in the future, how much time and resources our teachers and administrators and law enforcement have to put toward this."
The school board's resolution says the litigation will seek compensation for damages suffered by the district and its students from the "manufacture, marketing, sale and use of electronic-cigarettes and vaping products, and to seek any other appropriate relief." It does not specify a dollar amount.
The lawsuit was announced on the same day that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced a state resident over 50 was the state's first death linked to a nationwide outbreak of a vaping-related lung disease. The deceased resident was one of six reported cases of the lung disease in Kansas, with three of the cases considered confirmed or probable and the remaining three still under investigation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 450 possible cases of lung disease related to vaping reported in 33 states. As many as six cases nationwide have ended in death, including the one in Kansas.
Dana Baxa, director of community relations for Goddard schools, said the lawsuit was filed in reaction to students' increased use of e-cigarettes and vaping, not in response to the illnesses and deaths.
The lawsuit will target marketing by all manufacturers, distributors and sellers but McWhorter said he expects leading vaping product producer Juul will be mentioned frequently because it has such a large share of the vaping and e-cigarette industry.
The Food and Drug Administration on Monday accused Juul of illegally marketing its products as safer alternatives to smoking and ordered the company to stop making unproven claims in its marketing. Federal law bans sales to those under 18. Juul officials have denied the company targets children.
Josh Raffel, a spokesman for Juul, did not immediately reply to an email seeking reaction to the school board's decision.