If you thought that the controversy surrounding vaping and e-cigarettes couldn’t get more complicated, buckle up. In a new lawsuit, a former executive from the company alleges that Juul Labs shipped out one million contaminated e-cig pods without informing customers or issuing a recall. This comes as the company is already in hot water as people are calling out vaping in general due to a rash of vaping-related deaths, illnesses, and “lung injuries” sweeping the nation.
The former senior vice president of Juul, Siddharth Breja, alleges that he was fired in March after he raised concerns about tainted pods he says the company distributed to retailers and customers, CBS This Morning reports.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit alleges that he spoke out in meetings with senior management about issues with Juul’s “mint refill kits,” CBS notes. He also raised concerns about selling some allegedly expired products in February 2019, Buzzfeed reports. He notes that he requested Juul put “best by” or expiration dates on their pods and products.
Breja’s suit also claims that the CEO at the time, Kevin Burns, responded to his feedback by saying: "Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fo's, who the f*** is going to notice the quality of our pods?" Breja says that he was fired shortly after bringing up his concerns with the higher ups of the company.
In a comment to Refinery29, a Juul Labs spokesperson said Breja's claims were "baseless."
"He was terminated in March 2019 because he failed to demonstrate the leadership qualities needed in his role," the spokesperson said. "The allegations concerning safety issues with Juul products are equally meritless, and we already investigated the underlying manufacturing issue and determined the product met all applicable specifications. The company will vigorously defend this lawsuit."
Burns previously explained to CBS that toxicology tests are done on all of the products Juul sells. In an August interview with CBS This Morning co-host, Tony Dokoupil, Burns said that he wouldn’t sell a product if there was a known issue.
“Fair to say, if you knew this to be a toxic or dangerous substance, you wouldn't be selling it?" Dokoupil asked Burns in August.
"I can't imagine we had the data to support that we're selling a product that is damaging to the American public and we had that data that we'd continue to sell that product," Burns responded at the time.
For the record, Juul sells nicotine products, which haven’t been directly linked by evidence to the vaping-related diseases and deaths ravaging the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specifically called out bootlegged products and those with THC in them, noting that no single product has been linked to all the cases.
“Most of the people (77%) in this outbreak reported using THC-containing products, or both THC-containing products and nicotine-containing products,” The CDC noted in a September release regarding their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, adding: "The investigation is ongoing and the cause remains unknown at this time."