Opening statements underway, trial begins for Minnesota case against Juul, Altria

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The trial of the state of Minnesota’s case against an e-cigarette manufacturer and a tobacco company officially got underway Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court.

Jury selection for the trial involving Juul Labs and Altria took place Monday, allowing for opening statements on Tuesday.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office sued the companies back in 2019, claiming Juul designed its products to appeal to youth and get the younger generation addicted to its products. Additionally, the attorney’s office claims Juul failed to verify its customers’ ages and ignored children buying and using its products.

β€œIt’s recognized there will be youth use because these products are also capable of being abused, not abused, but used by people who aren’t supposed to be using them,” said David Bernick, Juul’s defense attorney.

Ellison delivered the first portion of the state’s opening statement, saying the companies “baited, deceived, and addicted a whole new generation of kids after Minnesotans slashed youth smoking rates down to the lowest level in a generation.”

“The state cannot childproof the world and we’re not trying to, but the law provides that citizens are protected from companies trying to deceive, manipulate and mislead them as we will show in our evidence,” Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General, said.

Altria, the third-largest tobacco company in global sales and market value, supported Juul’s marketing and helped the company reach more people, Ellison’s office claims.

5 INVESTIGATES previously reported that Juul recruited public health researchers in an effort to legitimize its business, including a researcher from the University of Minnesota. The company later said it stopped soliciting that research after reviewing its practices.

The trial is expected to last around three weeks.

Dozens of other states have also sued the companies but this is the first to go to trial.

A spokesperson for Juul issued the following statement ahead of the trial:

“Juul Labs has reached settlements with 39 other states and territories, resolving issues from the past while providing hundreds of millions of dollars to further combat underage use and develop cessation programs in those states. We have and continue to seek a similar settlement with the state of Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Attorney General’s office is determined to go to trial led by an outside law firm, incurring significant costs to the taxpayers and judicial system. At trial we will present a vigorous defense and show that the state’s claims do not stand up as matters of facts and law.

“Effective interventions to address underage use of all tobacco products in Minnesota, including vapor, depends not on headline-driven trials, but on evidence-based policies, programs, and enforcement. This is the approach that Juul Labs supports and has been part of implementing β€” leading to more than a 50% decline in underage use of vapor products generally and a 95% decline in use of JUUL products from 2019 to 2022 based on the National Youth Tobacco Survey.”

Juul spokesperson