Vaping

The Virginia Department of Health confirmed that an adult resident of Southwest Virginia died in the outbreak of severe lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use.

PRINCETON – A Mercer County lawsuit that seeks to stop the vaping industry from marketing its products to teenagers is now in the courts.

“The lawsuit has officially been filed as of Monday,” county commissioner Greg Puckett said Wednesday. “Mercer County was the first in the state.”

The county commission voted earlier this year to join the JUUL Lawsuit, and is being represented in the case by Attorney Rusty Webb of the Webb Law Center.

In the lawsuit, it is argued that manufacturers of e-cigarettes – JUUL being the leading manufacturer – has been marketing vaping “to teenagers as safer and less addictive than cigarettes,” Webb said in an earlier report.

In addition to Mercer County, Puckett said Greenbrier, Raleigh, Gilmer and Mineral counties have all signed on to the lawsuit.

“Within the coming weeks, it is expected that Pocahontas, Braxton, Calhoun and Putnam will sign on as well,” Puckett said.

Between 2017 and 2019, there was a 150 percent increase in the number of high school students using e-cigarettes, Webb said in the earlier report. Furthermore, as of 2019, 35.7 percent of the country’s high school students were using e-cigarettes.

Puckett said vaping is becoming an epidemic among the region’s youth.

“What this (lawsuit) does is it holds the firms accountable and shows the kids that it (vaping) is not a less harmful tool,” Puckett said.

Part of the problem right now is that there are no regulations regarding vaping shops and vaping businesses, Puckett said.

“It goes back to accountability and regulatory issues on building permits,” Puckett said. “They could put a business in the middle of the mountain.”

The commission voted 2-1 in October to join the lawsuit. Puckett and commissioner Bill Archer backed the motion with Commission President Gene Buckner voting no.

“There’s a part of the contract that says (Webb Law Center) gets 33 percent of the gross collection and if they spend any money as far as detectives or anybody else who does outside work, they get paid $35 an hour,” Buckner said during the earlier meeting. “It’s coming out of the gross income, which is what the county would get out of it.”

Instead, the law firm should get “33 percent off the top and leave the rest of it alone,” Buckner argued during that earlier meeting.

Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens

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