A year after taking e-cigarette maker Juul Labs to court, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is adding another tobacco giant to the state's lawsuit alleging a conspiracy to violate consumer protection laws while promoting youth smoking.
Ellison's office said Thursday it is just the second state to add Altria as a defendant in its ongoing lawsuit against Juul, which his office first filed in Hennepin County District Court in December 2019. The litigation is a sequel of sorts to the state's $6.5 billion settlement with the tobacco industry two decades ago.
According to the new civil complaint filed Thursday, Altria, the world's third-largest tobacco company, exited the e-cigarette market in 2018 — acknowledging at the time its toll on youth tobacco use — but quickly went on to buy a 35% stake in Juul for nearly $13 billion.
Altria then helped market and distribute Juul's products and included Juul advertisements on Altria cigarette packs that Ellison's office says were known as the most popular among youth.
"When I see the harm like the one Juul and Altria are perpetrating on Minnesotans — especially on our youth — I won't sit back and let it happen," Ellison said in a statement Thursday. "We in Minnesota have a special responsibility to lead the way in fighting this harm to our children."
Representatives for Altria did not respond to a request for comment.
Minnesota's lawsuit against Juul has alleged multiple violations of state consumer laws, a breach of the company's duty of reasonable care and creating a public nuisance. The suit alleges that the company developed products that were more potent and with more addictive levels of nicotine than other e-cigarettes or conventional cigarettes, all while billing it as a safe alternative for smokers.
Thursday's amended complaint levies many of the same allegations against Altria, while adding a new count of civil conspiracy against both companies.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755