Fifteen California school districts are suing the nation’s leading manufacturer of electronic cigarette devices, alleging the company has been deceptive in marketing its products to children and is negligently damaging the health of students and disrupting their learning.

Urban, suburban and rural districts from across the state — including the school systems in Los Angeles, San Diego, Compton, Anaheim, Chico and Poway — have filed similar suits this month against San Francisco-based Juul Labs. It is an attempt to hold the company accountable for what they say is an “epidemic” of vaping that is harming students and impeding schools from educating them.

Asked for comment about the lawsuits, a Juul Labs spokesman said in a statement:

“We remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with regulators, attorneys general, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes. As part of that process, we stopped the sale of flavored pods other than Tobacco and Menthol in November, suspended our television, print and digital product advertising, refrained from lobbying the Administration on its draft flavor guidance and support the final policy. Our customer base is the world’s 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users. To the extent these cases allege otherwise, they are without merit.”

The lawsuits seek compensation for financial losses suffered when students do not come to school and call for education programs and other actions to reduce youth vaping.

Preliminary results from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a continued rise in youth e-cigarette use, with more than a quarter of high school students using in the previous 30 days in 2019, with most citing fruit and menthol or mint flavors as favorites.

The Trump administration said this month that it would ban some flavored e-cigarette pods but not all, prompting anger from public health groups that said the action was not enough to stop a surge in vaping by teens.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, and may contain other harmful substances. E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. middle and high school students, and some elementary school students now use them. The CDC says young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke regular cigarettes later in life.

On Sept. 9 the Food and Drug Administration announced it had issued a warning letter to Juul Labs:

“ … for marketing unauthorized modified risk tobacco products by engaging in labeling, advertising, and/or other activities directed to consumers, including a presentation given to youth at a school. The agency also sent a letter to the company expressing concern, and requesting more information, about several issues raised in a recent congressional hearing regarding JUUL’s outreach and marketing practices, including those targeted at students, tribes, health insurers and employers.”

Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said in an op-ed in The Washington Post that the lawsuit his district filed against Juul is aimed at holding the company accountable for harming the health of students and for forcing schools to redirect education dollars toward counseling and vaping prevention efforts. He wrote:

“Students are becoming addicted to nicotine and other harmful substances and suffering serious health problems, losing days, weeks and months of school. The loss of instructional time also means a loss of state funding, which is based on student attendance. Fewer dollars means fewer teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians in our schools, and we are diverting funding away from classroom instruction and spending it instead on counseling and on programs to inform students of the dangers of vaping.

A lawsuit filed by the Poway Unified School District, in San Diego County, says there was a 1,000 percent increase in tobacco violations on school campuses from the 2016-2017 school year to 2017-2018, according to KNSD-TV. Beutner said that after teen smoking rates dropped from 28 percent in 2000 to 8 percent in 2017, they have started rising again, and a recent study said “the biggest concern” is the “rising popularity of e-cigarettes among adolescents.”

A lawsuit filed by the Anaheim Elementary School District accuses Juul of deceptive marketing aimed at luring children as early as elementary school.

“Accountability is important, especially when deliberate practices lead to the harm of children,” J. Paolo Magcalas, president of the Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education, said in a statement. “The marketing practices of the e-cigarette industry have deliberately been aimed at children with direly harmful consequences.”