RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is taking on e-cigarette giant JUUL.
He's filing a lawsuit against the company, making the state the first to take on the vaping industry head-on.
Stein says the company is targeting children, and that a shocking number of North Carolina middle and high schoolers are helplessly addicted.
The attorney general agreed to sit down with NBC Charlotte Defender Savannah Levins, giving an exclusive look into what he calls an uncontrolled epidemic that may be changing your child's brain.
"It's spreading like a virus," Stein said.
The North Carolina Attorney General is referring to electronic cigarettes. Specifically, JUUL.
"Any child who is using this is essentially a guinea pig," Stein said.
He says North Carolina kids are addicted to them.
"They actually alter the formula for nicotine to make it easier for first time users to inhale it down their throat. This is a company that intentionally designed and marketed its product to try to appeal to young people," Stein said, adding, "The sad truth is they've had unbelievable success in that mission."
In 2018, the CDC and FDA found that nearly 4 million young people, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, had smoked an e-cigarette in the past month.
Stein has now filed a lawsuit against JUUL, making North Carolina the first state to do so.
He claims the company illegally targeted minors by using flashy packaging, fruity flavors, and young social media influencers to market it all.
NBC Charlotte's Savannah Levins asked Stein why he's focusing on JUUL -- specifically asking if it had to do with the size of the company or that he believes they target minors.
"The reason they're the biggest company is because they're targeting minors," Stein said.
Juul told NBC Charlotte in a statement:
"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."
The company has also since shut down its Facebook and Instagram sites.
But Stein says that's not enough.
"They've essentially created this epidemic, it's an epidemic," he said.
The CDC is still trying to determine the exact effects of vaping but warns that, in the very least, e-cigarettes will undoubtedly harm a young person's brain development.
"We have tens of thousands of kids in North Carolina 'JUULing' all the time right now and JUUL has to pay," Stein said.
Defending his first-of-its-kind lawsuit, he says this is a public health crisis.
"My goal is to protect kids that's why I did it," Stein said.
He calls it a 21st-century cigarette that parents should be afraid of.
"If any parent out there has a child in high school or middle school and they have not had a conversation with their kid about JUUL, they better do it, because it is proliferating," he said.
He told NBC Charlotte no matter what happens with this lawsuit, this is a fight he's not going to lose.
If you or someone you know is looking to ditch the habit, there are many resources available to help.
1-800-QUIT-NOW is a free hotline operated by the National Cancer Institute. They offer a variety of counseling and materials to help, all free of cost.
JUUL issued this statement:
"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. We strongly advocate for Tobacco 21 legislation, we stopped the sale of non-tobacco and non-menthol based flavored JUULpods to our traditional retail store partners, enhanced our online age-verification process, strengthened our retailer compliance program with over 2,000 secret shopper visits per month, and shut down our Facebook and Instagram accounts while working constantly to remove inappropriate social media content generated by others on those platforms. Finally, we continue to develop technologies to further restrict underage access."