A Limestone County family has filed suit against e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL (and 35% owner Altria, parent of Philip Morris) and a local merchant, wishing to hold them responsible for their 17-year-old son’s nicotine addiction. The WAFF story, which embeds the legal complaint, is here.
I started smoking cigarettes regularly in March 1987, just short of my 16th birthday. I was able to smoke for a long time without my parents or stepparents detecting it, mostly because all four of them smoked. Also, it was only very rarely that I got carded, and if I did, all I had to do was go down the street. Finally, there was no significant financial hurdle. In the beginning, I would get a pack of cigarettes and a sixteen-ounce soft drink and get a little change back from $2.
These were circumstances highly conducive to me getting addicted, and I did. Except for a sustained period of a year and a half that ended the week my mother died in April 2001, I smoked a pack to a pack and a half a day from the spring of 1987 until the summer of 2011. I was 40 years old when I finally quit, having smoked a quarter of a million cigarettes.
It is the greatest mistake of my life, and quitting was the hardest thing I’ve ever done that was completely under my control. I still thank God regularly for delivering me, and ask for His help in continuing to keep me abstinent. (As I’ve said before, we like to think the addiction is across the country, or at least in the next town. It’s not. It hangs out about six blocks away.)
It is a demon. I feel tremendous sympathy for this young man’s parents. Quoting from the complaint:
“A.B. now struggles to function without nicotine. He experiences strong mood swings and bouts of rage from withdrawal from the JUUL. A.B’s severe addiction to the nicotine levels contained in the JUUL created within him behavioral issues and deceptive habits that did not exist before, causing severe conflict in the Bentley home to the point where he had to be sent to a military academy in Texas. There, his parents would mail him nicotine cessation products in an effort to help him quit. This behavior of anger and deception has caused A.B. a great deal of guilt, but he was so desperate to obtain nicotine that he could not restrain himself…A.B. still struggles with this nicotine addiction and will continue to struggle with this addiction for the rest of his life. A.B.’s nicotine addiction from JUUL permanently injured and altered his developing brain.”
To be sure, there are different circumstances here from the ones under which I got hooked. Legally, financially, and culturally, it has (thankfully) gotten steadily more difficult for young people to become addicted to nicotine.
However, as painful as it is for his parents to witness, there is nothing remarkable about their son’s behavior described above. A.B. is exhibiting textbook nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Suing tobacco companies and convenience stores will not help him recover. Moreover, there is already a high state of alert about these products. It’s highly unlikely that this lawsuit raises any flags that aren’t already flying.
From what the complaint reveals, and from what I know firsthand about being a nicotine-addicted teenager, I strongly suspect his parents are requiring abstinence as a condition of A.B. living in their home. That is not realistic. They may also think he can patch up or chew gum and just quit. That is not realistic either.
Is the “severe conflict” at home coming from his addiction? Or his parents’ reaction to it?
A.B. should be home (if he’s not home already). Everyone should take a deep breath, speak softly and calmly, and work on a plan together that may not include him quitting right this second. He must want to quit himself for any aids to be effective. But there’s no need to put his entire life on hold because of this unpleasant thing that must be managed for a time.
(And it doesn’t help him to pay a lawyer another dime.)