(CNN) - North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced Wednesday that the state has filed a lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, claiming that its marketed its products to children and misled the public about risks associated with those products.
"As a result of Juul's deceptive and unfair practices, thousands of North Carolina kids are at risk of addiction to nicotine," Stein said Wednesday. "Juul must be stopped from spreading this disease any further and must pay for its violations of the law.
"I'm taking this action today to keep these products out of kids' hands, to keep the vapor out of their lungs and to keep the poison out of their brains," he added.
The lawsuit is the first by a state over the company's alleged marketing toward teens.
Stein said the suit stemmed from an investigation his office began in October by requesting information on the company's sales and marketing practices.
"My investigation showed two things: One, it targeted young people. And two, it misleads the public about the potency of nicotine in its products," he said. "You only have to walk through any high school parking lot in North Carolina to see how pervasive Juul is among young people in our state.
"Juul claims its products are for adults, but its business strategy clearly targeted young people and minors."
Stein said he's seeking to stop Juul from engaging in "harmful and unfair marketing practices, to pay civil penalties and for the disgorgement of Juul's ill-gotten profits."
Stein said that Juul's 75% market hold on e-cigarettes was primarily driven by use among middle and high school students and added that nearly 17% of North Carolina high schoolers reported vaping in the past month. He also cited national numbers, released by the US Food and Drug Administration in November, showing that vaping had increased nearly 80% among high schoolers and 50% among middle schoolers since the year before.
Stein said Juul utilized social media influencers popular among young people, as well as designing flavors and products that were attractive to teens.
The lawsuit alleges that Juul routinely downplayed the strength of its nicotine. Stein said it entered the market with nicotine concentrations well above what was typical at the time and "downplayed the risks."
Juul has maintained that its products are not for kids and are intended to convert adult former smokers. "While we have not yet reviewed the complaint, we share the Attorney General's concerns about youth vaping, which is why we have been cooperating with his office and why we have taken the most aggressive actions of anyone in the industry to combat youth usage," it said in a statement Wednesday.
Anti-tobacco advocacy groups applauded the lawsuit.
Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that "Juul introduced a slick, sweet-flavored, high-nicotine product and marketed it in ways that one study found was patently youth-oriented. We applaud Attorney General Stein for taking action to bring about the changes needed to protect kids."
Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes, a parent-run advocacy group, described the lawsuit as a "bold, necessary action" that many parents have been waiting for. "We hear from parents every day who desperately seek treatment options for their nicotine-addicted kids, some as young as 12-years-old."
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