The Cherokee Nation has filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs alleging the vape maker engaged in an “insidious marketing practice” that targeted Native American children and used them as “guinea pigs” in the early stages of its product development.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 3 in Sequoyah County (Oklahoma) Court, also names 22 other vape manufacturers and retailers that advertised, distributed, and sold JUUL products, triggering a youth vaping epidemic that devastated the health of the Cherokee Nation’s youth, according to the Sequoyah Times.

“A particularly insidious marketing practice of Juul’s was to use Native Americans as a testing ground for its products,” the lawsuit alleges. The Cherokee Nation bases that assertion on a Feb. 5, 2020, memorandum by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy that found JUUL used Native American tribes as guinea pigs for test their products and marketing methods.

According to the Sequoyah Times, the lawmakers found that JUUL sold vaping “starter kits” to various tribes and encourage tribal governments to provide the kits free of charge to their citizens while making baseless claims that its vapes were a safe alternative to smoking conventional tobacco products.

“Juul created a vaping epidemic throughout this country, but Native American teenagers in the Cherokee Nation and others were used by these companies in a way that was truly evil,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., according to the Sequoyah Times. He added that JUUL knew Native American populations were historically easily manipulated because they are “more vulnerable to addiction,” so it took aim at Native American kids with its testing, sales, and marketing.

According to the federal data, vaping rates among Native American youth are significantly higher than in other populations, with more than 16% of Native American middle school students and 40.4% of Native American high school students currently vaping.

These numbers are especially alarming after a recent study by Stanford University researchers found that teens who vaped were five to seven times more likely to be infected by COVID-19 than those who do not vape.

In addition to making youth more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, the lawsuit lists several other lung illnesses and injuries that studies have linked to JUUL and other vaping products.

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