Juul To Pay Nearly $440M To Settle States’ Teen Vaping Probe

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced the deal Tuesday on behalf of the states plus Puerto Rico.

Electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs has agreed to pay nearly $440 million to settle a two-year investigation by 33 states into the marketing of its high-nicotine vaping products, which have long been blamed for sparking a national surge in teen vaping.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced the deal Tuesday on behalf of the states plus Puerto Rico, which joined together in 2020 to probe Juul’s early promotions and claims about the benefits of its technology as a smoking alternative.

The settlement, which includes numerous restrictions on how Juul can market its products, resolves one of the biggest legal threats facing the beleaguered company, which still faces nine separate lawsuits from other states. Additionally, Juul faces hundreds of personal lawsuits brought on behalf of teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company’s vaping products.

The states’ investigation found that Juul marketed its e-cigarettes to underage teens with launch parties, product giveaways and ads and social media posts using youthful models, according to a statement.

Electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs has agreed to pay nearly $440 million to settle a two-year investigation by 33 states into the marketing of its high-nicotine vaping products, which have long been blamed for sparking a national surge in teen vaping.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced the deal Tuesday on behalf of the states plus Puerto Rico, which joined together in 2020 to probe Juul’s early promotions and claims about the benefits of its technology as a smoking alternative.

The settlement, which includes numerous restrictions on how Juul can market its products, resolves one of the biggest legal threats facing the beleaguered company, which still faces nine separate lawsuits from other states. Additionally, Juul faces hundreds of personal lawsuits brought on behalf of teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company’s vaping products.

The states’ investigation found that Juul marketed its e-cigarettes to underage teens with launch parties, product giveaways and ads and social media posts using youthful models, according to a statement.

“We think that this will go a long way in stemming the flow of youth vaping,” Tong said at a news conference at his Hartford office.

“I’m under no illusions and cannot claim that it will stop youth vaping,” he said. “It continues to be an epidemic. It continues to be a huge problem. But we have essentially taken a big chunk out of what was once a market leader, and by their conduct, a major offender.”

The $438.5 million will be paid out over a period of six to 10 years. Tong said Connecticut’s payment of at least $16 million will go toward vaping prevention and education efforts. Juul previously settled lawsuits in Arizona, Louisiana, North Carolina and Washington.

The settlement total amounts to about 25% of Juul’s U.S. sales of $1.9 billion last year. Tong said it was an “agreement in principle,” meaning the states will be finalizing the settlement documents over the next several weeks.

Most of the limits imposed by Tuesday’s settlement won’t immediately affect Juul, which halted use of parties, giveaways and other promotions after coming under scrutiny several several years ago.

Teen use of e-cigarettes skyrocketed after Juul’s launch in 2015, leading the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to declare an “epidemic” of underage vaping among teenagers. Health experts said the unprecedented increase risked hooking a generation of young people on nicotine.

But since 2019 Juul has mostly been in retreat, dropping all U.S. advertising and pulling its fruit and candy flavors from store shelves.

The biggest blow came earlier this summer when the FDA moved to ban all Juul e-cigarettes from the market. Juul challenged that ruling in court, and the FDA has since reopened its scientific review of the company’s technology.

The FDA review is part of a sweeping effort by regulators to bring scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar vaping industry after years of delays. The agency has authorized a handful of e-cigarettes from Juul’s competitors for adult smokers looking for a less harmful alternative.

While Juul’s early marketing focused on young, urban consumers, the company has since shifted to pitching its product as an alternative nicotine source for older smokers.

“We remain focused on our future as we fulfill our mission to transition adult smokers away from cigarettes – the number one cause of preventable death – while combating underage use,” the company said in a statement.

Juul has agreed to refrain from a host of marketing practices as part of the settlement. They include not using cartoons, paying social media influencers, depicting people under 35, advertising on billboards and public transportation and placing ads in any outlets unless 85% of their audience are adults.The deal also includes restrictions on where Juul products may be placed in stores, age verification on all sales and limits to online and retail sales.

“These are some of the toughest mandates at any point on any industry,” Tong said, “which is incredibly important because at the end of the day this is about protecting our kids and protecting all of us from a very significant public health risk.”

Juul initially sold its high-nicotine pods in flavors like mango, mint and creme. The products became a scourge in U.S. high schools, with students vaping in bathrooms and hallways between classes.

But recent federal survey data shows that teens have been shifting away from the company. Most teens now prefer disposable e-cigarettes, some of which continue to be sold in sweet, fruity flavors.

Overall, the survey showed a drop of nearly 40% in the teen vaping rate as many kids were forced to learn from home during the pandemic. Still, federal officials cautioned about interpreting the results given they were collected online for the first time, instead of in classrooms.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Sheriff: 2 Dead In Northern California Wildfire

The blaze hadn’t expanded since Saturday morning, covering about 6.6 square miles with a 25% containment. But it grew in size on Sunday.

Two people have died in a blaze that ripped through a Northern California town, said Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue.

LaRue shared the news of the fatalities Sunday afternoon during a community meeting held at an elementary school north of Weed, the rural Northern California community charred by one of California’s latest wildfires. He did not immediately provide names or other details including age or gender of the two people who died.

“There’s no easy way of putting it,” he said before calling for a moment of silence.

Both LaRue and other officials acknowledged uncertainties facing the community, such as when people would be allowed back into their homes and power would be restored. About 1,000 people were still under evacuation orders Sunday as firefighters worked to contain the blaze that had sparked out of control Friday at the start of the holiday weekend.

The blaze, known as the Mill Fire, hadn’t expanded since Saturday morning, covering about 6.6 square miles with 25% containment, according to Cal Fire. But the nearby Mountain Fire grew in size on Sunday, officials said. It also started Friday, though in a less populated area. More than 300 people were under evacuation orders.

Power outages, smoky skies and uncertainty about what the day would bring left a feeling of emptiness around the town of Weed the morning after evacuation orders were lifted for thousands of other residents.

“It’s eerily quiet,” said Susan Tavalero, a city councilor who was driving to a meeting with fire officials.

She was joined by Mayor Kim Greene, and the two hoped to get more details on how many homes had been lost. A total of 132 structures were destroyed or damaged, fire officials said Sunday, though it wasn’t clear whether they were homes, businesses, or other buildings.

Three people were injured, according to Cal Fire, but no other details were available. Two people were brought to Mercy Medical Center Mount Shasta, Cal Fire Siskiyou Unit Chief Phil Anzo said Saturday. One was in stable condition and the other was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, which has a burn unit. It’s unclear if these injuries were related to the deaths reported Sunday.

Weed, home to fewer than 3,000 people about 280 miles northeast of San Francisco, has long been seen by passersby as a whimsical spot to stop along Interstate 5. But the town, nestled in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, is no stranger to wildfires.

Phil Anzo, Cal Fire’s Siskiyou Unit Chief, acknowledged the toll fires have taken on the rural region in recent years.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen lots of fires in this community, we’ve seen lots of fires in this county, and we’ve suffered lots of devastation,” Anzo said.

Dominique Mathes, 37, said he’s had some close calls with wildfires since he has lived in Weed. Though fire dangers are becoming more frequent, he’s not interested in leaving.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “Everybody has risks everywhere, like Florida’s got hurricanes and floods, Louisiana has got tornadoes and all that stuff. So, it happens everywhere. Unfortunately here, it’s fires.”

The winds make Weed and the surrounding area a perilous place for wildfires, whipping small flames into a frenzy. Weed has seen three major fires since 2014, a period of extreme drought that has prompted the largest and most destructive fires in California history.

That drought persists as California heads into what traditionally is the worst of the fire season. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Crews battled flames while much of the state baked in a Labor Day weekend heat wave, with temperatures expected to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Los Angeles, exceptionally warm weather for Southern California. Temperatures were expected to be even hotter through the Central Valley up to the capital of Sacramento.

The California Independent System Operator issued its fifth “flex alert,” a plea for people to use their air conditioners and other appliances sparingly from 4 to 9 p.m. to protect the power grid.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Some States Could Tax Biden’s Student Loan Debt Relief

Some states tax forgiven debt as income, which means borrowers who are still paying down student loans could owe taxes on money taken off their bill.

President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan could lift crushing debt burdens from millions of borrowers, but the tax man may demand a cut of the relief in some states.

That’s because some states tax forgiven debt as income, which means borrowers who are still paying down student loans could owe taxes on as much as $10,000 or even $20,000 that was taken off their bill. In Mississippi, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas and North Carolina, forgiven student loans will be subject to state income taxes unless they change their laws to conform with a federal tax exemption for student loans, according to a tally by the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

That dismays Cathy Newman, a Louisiana State University graduate who just took a job teaching freshman biology at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. She figures she could end up owing a few hundred dollars of money that she could have kept had she stayed in Louisiana.

Newman said she can come up with the cash because she has a good job, but she knows of a lot of other borrowers who will still be stuck in difficult financial positions even with their loans forgiven.

“If they stay in the state, they could end up with a pretty hefty tax burden if things don’t change,” Newman said. “I won’t be happy if I have to do it. I can do it. But a lot of people can’t.”

More than 40 million Americans could see their student loan debt cut or eliminated under the forgiveness plan President Biden announced late last month. The president is erasing $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals with incomes below $125,000 a year, or households that earn less than $250,000. He’s canceling an additional $10,000 for those who also used federal Pell Grants to pay for college. But it only applies to those whose loans were paid out before July 1, which leaves out current high school seniors and students who will follow them.

Although having $10,000 or $20,000 in loan payments eliminated will be a boon over the long term to borrowers who qualify, those in the affected states might be required to declare that as income. Depending on a state’s tax rates, the taxpayer’s other income and the deductions and exemptions they’re able to claim, that could add up to several hundred extra tax dollars that they’ll owe.

Spokespeople for tax agencies in several states — including Virginia, Idaho, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — told The Associated Press that their states definitely won’t tax student loans forgiven under President Biden’s program. Revenue officials in a few other states said they needed to do more research to know.

Newman, 38, went into debt to pay for graduate school. She had already set herself up for relief under the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, though that requires five more years of teaching on top of the five she already taught at the University of Louisiana Monroe. President Biden’s program would cut $10,000 off her debt load when it takes effect, but under existing Mississippi tax law, the relief won’t come free.

“It’s not a huge burden for me, but it could be for a lot of other people, which is what I’m worried about, especially if it’s unexpected, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” Newman said.

Any relief in states that would tax the forgiven debt would have to come from their Legislatures. Leaders of the Minnesota Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz have indicated in recent media interviews that there’s broad support for a fix, which could come during the 2023 session, or even earlier on the remote chance of a special session.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration plans to propose a fix in the state budget next year, but that would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature. And Evers needs to get reelected in November before he can formally make that request. Republican legislative leaders and Evers’ GOP challenger, Tim Michels, did not reply to messages seeking comment on the student loan tax issue.

However, in Mississippi, the chairman of the state Senate committee in charge of taxes said he’s willing to take a look when the Legislature convenes next year. Republican state Sen. Josh Harkins, of Brandon, said he needs to learn more about what his state’s tax laws say on debt forgiveness.

“I’m sure people will want to look at adjusting that or making some changes in the law, but a lot of factors have to be considered,” Harkins said, noting that Mississippi enacted its biggest-ever tax cut earlier this year and adding that he wants to gauge the impact of inflation before making big tax policy decisions. “This all just hit in the last week.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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White House Sends Monkeypox Vaccines To Labor Day Weekend Pride Events

Louisiana got 1,500 additional vaccine vials for the Southern Decadence festival.

It’s a celebration.  

“This is a must-do in New Orleans. It’s like Mardi Gras but this is Mardi Gras for this community, said Jennifer Jones, New Orleans’ dancing queen.

Southern Decadence, an LGBTQ+ festival expected to attract up to 300,000 people to the city of New Orleans, is back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

But new to the party: A vaccination clinic.  

The White House is focusing on events like this one across the nation in hopes of getting the monkeypox outbreak under control.

“Our goal, as with many of our public health interventions, is to bring the service to the people who need it,” said John Brooks, the chief medical officer at the CDC’s multinational monkeypox outbreak response.

Anyone can get monkeypox but has been most common among men who have sex with men.

“What we know about monkeypox is that the number one mode of transmission is skin-to-skin intimate contact,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director at the New Orleans Health Department.

The CDC is working with the Louisiana Department of Health and the New Orleans Health Department to boost immunizations in the LGBTQ+ population.  

The federal government sent thousands of extra monkeypox vaccines to the city of New Orleans ahead of Southern Decadence this Labor Day weekend.

The city has a vaccination clinic within walking distance of the French Quarter, where people who are most at risk can go, get the monkeypox vaccine and get tested if they need to.  

The state got 1,500 additional vaccine vials for the event; officials say it’s possible that can provide up to 6,000 vaccine shots if administered correctly by a medical professional. It’s way less than what the state originally asked for, but the New Orleans Health Department says it’s better than nothing.          

“We do think that we have enough doses to at least serve a large number of folks who might be interested. We’ve been doing a lot of work before Decadence, lots, and lots and lots of vaccine events before to try to get our community protected. We’ve been doing a lot of messaging nationwide,” said Dr. Avegno.

Residents like Jonathan Reazin are happy to get the vaccine if it means keeping the party going.       

“A lot of people that have already gotten shots, we’re comparing bumps. Mine’s on the backside. Theirs’ are on the front,” said Reazin. “For me, if it happens in this community, I want to do my part to prevent it from spreading so that’s why I got the vaccine.”

If the city runs out of the vaccine supply provided for the event, officials informed Newsy, the city is able to dip into state supply in stores, as long as they promise to replenish anything that was used.

Source: newsy.com

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