Morton Marcus: Hoosier schools leaving vaping money on the table



I’ve been reading a 309-page story that could become a delightful movie about corporate deceit and anti-social behavior.

The managers of JUUL would be hilarious, if played by the Marx brothers. Sadly, those managers caused widespread teen addiction and added costs for our schools.

Remember when cigarette smoking was readily accepted in public places? When the U.S. Surgeon General submitted a report in 1964 on the link between cancer, heart disease and cigarettes, we increased regulations on “coffin nails.” Twenty years later, smoking was banned from public areas including airplanes, hospitals and restaurants.

In the 1990s, Attorneys General across America sued tobacco companies and won massive awards for the states in compensation for health care provided to smokers. Since 1999, Indiana has received $2.9 billion for smoking cessation and related programs, including $146 million in 2021.

Then, along came vaping, the process of heating a chemical solution producing a gas which, like cigarettes, contains nicotine and can be inhaled. Quickly, JUUL’s products captured the market. This was achieved by targeting children in junior and senior high schools.

Although JUUL denies such targeting, its use of social media, packaging and flavor additives made it “cool” for those 13 to 23. A steady and growing stream of health problems among the young led to many studies and even a Congressional hearing about vaping.

JUUL products deliver more nicotine than cigarettes in a single puff, speeding the process of nicotine addiction. Whereas cigarettes burn out, ending the intake of nicotine, JUUL delivers its higher volume nicotine long after any cigarette might last.

In 2018, the JUUL Labs, Inc. (JLI) sold a 35% interest in itself to Altria, the former Philip Morris mega-corporation, for $12.8 billion. Armed with the experience of Altria in selling tobacco to the youth market, JUUL expanded the market for nicotine addiction. Originally promoted as a convenient, reliable way to quit smoking, JUUL and other e-cigarette producers knew early addiction promotes long-term sales.

As young people became addicted to e-cigarettes, school counselors and teachers had to contend with increased disruptive behaviors and new health issues of students. Critical time lost to education and guidance was a real cost not reported in annual financial statements.

Today, a multistate lawsuit representing over 250 school districts is progressing. Yet only 15 are from Indiana. Why so few? There are no financial risks, no fees to pay for the school districts. All they have to do is answer a questionnaire which is mainly Yes/No.

From my reading of the submission on behalf of the Carmel Clay Schools, the blatant deceit of JLI management will be exposed and a good financial boost for the schools realized. Why aren’t the school boards in Columbus, Chesterton, and West Lafayette participating? Are they so blessed that they have no vaping epidemic and no use for added funds?

Morton Marcus is an economist. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him and John Guy on Who Gets What? wherever podcasts are available or at Send comments to [email protected].