PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland Public Schools is suing the e-cigarette company Juul Labs Inc. in U.S. District Court, claiming that the defendant developed and implemented a “deceptive marketing scheme” that victimized Portland students.

Portland Public Schools, which oversees 49,000 students across 81 schools, officially filed the lawsuit on Sept. 30, becoming the first school district in Oregon to join a sweeping list of government agencies taking legal action against the company.

In a statement issued on Oct. 5, PPS stated that it is committed to the health and well-being of its students.

“We’re proud to demonstrate this commitment by becoming the first school district in Oregon to join the Juul lawsuit,” PPS said. “The defendants’ predatory practices have victimized students – our students – and we have a responsibility to hold them accountable for the harm they have caused our community.”

In the lawsuit obtained by KOIN 6 News, PPS claims that Juul products are “rampant” in U.S. schools, citing more than five million middle school and high school students who said they actively use e-cigarette in 2019. The described “nicotine epidemic” affecting school-aged children across the U.S., has also had a noticeable impact on PPS schools, the suit says.

“Consistent with these national numbers, youth in Portland Public Schools are vaping at high rates,” the suit states. “Between 2017 and 2019, current e-cigarette use by 11th grade students in Multnomah County rose from 10.1% to 20.9%.”

The problem has become so rampant, the suit states, that in the 2021-2022 school year, approximately half of all disciplinary referrals related to substance abuse at PPS schools were e-cigarette or vaping related. The spike in underage e-cigarette use, the suit says, has caused a new wave of nicotine addiction that is overwhelming parents, schools and the health care system.

“The battle to end nicotine addiction and its associated diseases and death has consumed our nation’s public health resources for more than half a century,” the suit states. “After five decades of tireless efforts by public health advocates, litigators, and regulators, the war on tobacco was on the path to victory. By 2014, rates of smoking and nicotine addiction in this country were finally at an all-time low, particularly among teenagers. Until now. The United States, closer than ever to consigning the nicotine industry to the dustbin of history, now faces a youth nicotine epidemic of historic proportions.”

It’s unclear what compensation PPS is seeking in the case. On Sept. 6, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced a pending, multi-state settlement with Juul for $438.5 million, for the company’s alleged youth-marketing practices.

KOIN 6 News reached out to Juul for a comment on the lawsuit, but has not yet heard back.