Judgment resolves AG’s vaping sweep that caught seven retailers failing to block online sales to minors
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a legally binding agreement with a California-based company that was caught in a sweep of online vaping retailers. The company, E-Juice Vapor Inc., will pay $375,000 to resolve a lawsuit Ferguson brought in August 2020 after its initial refusal to cooperate with the investigation.
The resolution concludes the Attorney General’s Office 2019-2020 investigation into online vaping retailers. The Attorney General’s Office caught seven retailers violating Washington’s online age verification law. The seven retailers signed judgments requiring them to pay just over half a million dollars, which will go toward continued enforcement of Washington’s vaping product laws.
Unlike the six other companies, E-Juice Vapor did not cooperate in the initial phase of the investigation and did not provide information about its sales into Washington. Consequently, Ferguson filed a lawsuit in August 2020. E-Juice Vapor is paying more than the other six targets of the attorney general’s sweep because of its initial lack of cooperation and because its sales into Washington state were significantly higher than the other retailers.
“E-Juice Vapor illegally put profits over the safety of children,” Ferguson said. “We will continue to work with parents to keep nicotine products out of the hands of youth.”
Feguson’s lawsuit against E-Juice Vapor stemmed from a 2019-2020 sweep of online vaping sales by investigators from the Attorney General’s Office. After assembling a list of 148 online sellers of vapor products, the investigators posed as minors or used false identifying information to attempt to make purchases of nicotine-containing vapor products. Washington’s law requires stringent age verification for online sales of vapor products. For example, vapor product sellers must verify the buyer’s age using a third-party service to crosscheck and confirm the buyer’s identity.
Seven of the 148 online sellers illegally sold products to the Attorney General’s investigators without verifying the ages of the purchasers. Six of those companies previously signed legally binding agreements to change their advertising and online sales practices to comply with Washington’s law. The six companies that cooperated with Ferguson’s investigation agreed to pay the following amounts to the Attorney General’s Office:
- VanVal Vapor, based in Spokane, paid $30,000
- Zenith, based in New York, paid $50,000
- Local Vape, based in Henderson, Nev., paid $25,000
- Northland Vapor, based in Moorhead, Minn., paid $7,000
- WOV, based in Castle Rock, Colo., paid $20,000
- Vaping Zone, based in Columbia, S.C., paid $40,000
Washington law on vapor products
The sweep represents a continuation of Ferguson’s efforts to reduce youth access to vaping products. In 2016, Ferguson helped draft Washington’s youth access and online age verification law for sales. In 2019, he co-led the effort to pass legislation raising the purchase age to 21 for vapor and tobacco products. The new minimum age went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
In order to sell vapor products to Washington residents, retailers must do the following:
- Clearly state Washington’s minimum legal age of purchase on their website
- Use a third-party verification service to confirm the purchaser’s name, age and residential address
- Verify the credit card information, and it has to match the information the purchaser provides
- Get a signed certification from the purchaser, saying they are who they say they are, and they are of legal age to purchase vapor products
- Include shipping documents that clearly state the package contains vapor products
- Provide information about Washington law regarding the purchase of vapor products by minors
None of the seven companies complied with any of these requirements. In addition, four of the companies did not have a license to ship these products to consumers.
E-Juice Vapor specifically advertised its products as similar to candy. Investigators discovered its “Candy King” vapor product line “profiled to suggest a flavor like Sour Patch Kids, Strawberry Sour Belts, Swedish Fish and Strawberry Watermelon Bubbalicious.” The description continued, “take a gander…you will see they look precisely like sacks of your most loved candy.”
Assistant Attorney General Brendan Selby and investigators Tony Perkins and Eric Peters handled the cases for the office’s Complex Litigation Division.
The Complex Litigation Division provides representation on the office's most difficult, challenging and high profile cases. It also fulfills a leading role for the office in the enforcement of the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. This includes monitoring and enforcing violations of advertising restrictions by the major tobacco companies, multi-state litigation of payment disputes and assistance with implementation of the public health provisions. Regulatory enforcement of the emerging e-cigarette and vaping industries is an increasing portion of this role.
Youth vaping epidemic
The use of e-cigarettes among teenagers has skyrocketed. For example, in 2016, 13 percent of high school sophomores in Washington used vaping products. In 2018, that number nearly doubled to 21 percent. In 2011, less than one percent (0.6) of middle schoolers used e-cigarettes. By 2019, one in 10 middle schoolers nationwide used e-cigarettes. This increase is undoing decades of advances in driving down youth smoking rates. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, vaping use among youth has reached “epidemic proportions.”
In September 2020, Ferguson sued JUUL, the largest e-cigarette company in the nation, for illegally targeting underage consumers in its advertising and product design.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753 2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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