A new lawsuit filed against Juul Labs on Tuesday claims the company shipped out one million contaminated e-cigarette products without telling anyone — or recalling them.
Filed by the company’s former senior vice president of finance, Siddharth Breja, the lawsuit, first reported by Buzzfeed, alleges that he experienced retaliation after raising his concerns to the then-CEO Kevin Burns. Breja suggested to Burns that the company should include some expiration date on its products, which Burns shot down.
“Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods,” the lawsuit claims Burns said.
Breja details in the lawsuit that Juul wanted to sell vaping pods that were about a year old. He said that batches of Juul’s mint e-liquid were found to be contaminated during a March 12 meeting. The lawsuit alleges that, nevertheless, nearly 250,000 mint refill kits were shipped to retailers and sold to customers. Buzzfeed reports that the kits add up to about one million pods.
A little over a week after Breja raised his concerns about the contaminated products, on March 21, he was fired from Juul.
“Mr. Breja became aware of very concerning actions at the company, and he performed his duty to shareholders and to the board by reporting these issues internally,” Breja’s attorney Harmeet Dhillon, told BuzzFeed. “In exchange for doing that, he was inappropriately terminated. This is very concerning, particularly since some of the issues he raised concerned matters of public safety.”
Breja said in the lawsuit that his actions were in response to concerns about the public’s safety amid the vaping illnesses that had just started occurring.
As of October 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 34 people have died and that there have been 1,604 cases of lung injuries caused by vaping.
Juul has been at the forefront of the vaping illness epidemic. Federal authorities began a criminal investigation into the company in September, along with investigations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). State attorneys general and the FTC are also looking into whether Juul targets minors with its marketing and flavored e-cigarettes.
In June, San Francisco, where Juul is headquartered, became the first city in the U.S. to ban the sales of e-cigarettes. Since then, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, and New York have made similar bans to vaping products amid health concerns. President Donald Trump has also said that he wants to ban flavored e-cigarettes nationwide and issue new regulatory guidance on vapes.
Juul advertises its vaping products as being a safer and healthier substitution to traditional cigarette smoking. However, studies consistently show e-cigarette smokers are less likely to quit than regular smokers who have never used these kinds of devices.
“Mr. Breja’s claims are baseless. He was terminated in March 2019 because he failed to demonstrate the leadership qualities needed in his role,” a Juul spokesperson told Digital Trends. “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.”