Lawsuit claims Juul knowingly sold 1 million 'contaminated' pods

Lawsuit claims Juul knowingly sold 1 million 'contaminated' pods
© Getty

E-cigarette company Juul knowingly shipped 1 million "contaminated" pods to retailers this year and refused to recall the products or warn consumers, a former executive claimed in a lawsuit he filed against the company this week.

Siddharth Breja, who served as Juul's senior vice president of global finance in 2018 and 2019, is suing the company for damages, arguing he was "terminated in retaliation" for being a whistleblower.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Northern District of California, Breja said he was fired after objecting to the shipment and raising concerns about other instances of "illegal and unsafe conduct" that "jeopardized" public health and the lives of consumers.

Juul, which dominates the e-cigarette market in the U.S., has had a tumultuous year battling accusations that it purposely marketed to kids.

Meanwhile, federal health officials are investigating an outbreak of lung illnesses among patients that vaped THC and nicotine products.

In his lawsuit, Breja did not say what the shipped pods were allegedly contaminated with, but he noted they were mint flavored — one of the company's best-selling products.

He also claimed that former Juul CEO Kevin Burns ruled the company in a "dictatorial manner" before stepping down last month.

After Juul announced over the summer it would stop selling flavored vaping products like cucumber and fruit in stores, demand spiked for its mint-flavored pods.

Burns allegedly pushed suppliers to keep up with the demand, resulting in "compromised" quality control measures, according to Breja.

"The focus was on producing and selling mint-flavored pods at any cost, even when the product turned out not to be safe," his lawsuit says.

Breja said that when he protested the decision to sell contaminated pods, he was told by a supervisor that issuing a recall would lead to billions of dollars in lost sales. He added that in the previous month he had raised concerns in a staff meeting about the company's intent to resell expired pods that had been returned by a distributor.

In response, Burns allegedly said: "Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fo’s, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods."

Breja alleges that he was fired on March 21 after he continued to raise concerns.

A Juul spokesperson called the Breja's claims "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."
 
Breja claimed he was fired just "days" after blowing the whistle on the company's illegal activity.
 
"This cold and calculated act was an attempt to silence him and to set an example for other employees," he said in the lawsuit.
 
Burns stepped down in September shortly after the Food and Drug Administration accused Juul of illegally marketing its products as being less harmful than cigarettes.
 
He was replaced with former Altria executive K.C. Crosthwaite, drawing criticism from anti-tobacco advocates who say Juul's tactics mirror those used by the tobacco industry decades ago.
 
Altria owns a 35 percent stake in Juul.
 
Congress and the Federal Trade Commission are also investigating Juul's marketing tactics, including whether it purposely marketed its products to minors.
 
Government data shows teen vaping rates have doubled in the past two years, a worrying stat for public health advocates who warn of another generation becoming addicted to nicotine.
 
The Trump administration is expected to ban the sale of all flavored e-cigarette products in an effort to keep them away from kids.
 
Juul has tried to change its public image in the last few months, suspending the sale of fruit-flavored products and ceasing advertising efforts.
 
Updated at 4:31 p.m.