Los Angeles – In the midst of a nationwide swarm of vape-related illness and death, City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced that his office has entered into a four-year statewide stipulated judgment with NEwhere Inc. and VapeCo Distribution LLC over allegations that the companies illegally marketed vape products to minors and sold vaping products over the internet without following state-mandated age verification requirements. In addition to a $350,000 penalty, each company will now be required to adhere to a multitude of strict regulations ensuring they do not advertise or sell to children in California. (View livestream).
"The vape industry is taking a page out of big tobacco’s old playbook by marketing and selling these addictive, harmful products to kids. We’re going to do all we can to put a stop to it," said Feuer. "As our nation grapples with hundreds of cases of severe lung disease and eight deaths attributed to vaping, vape companies must change their practices so they don’t put our kids’ health at risk."
In 2018, Feuer filed unfair competition lawsuits under Business & Professions Code section 17200 against three vape companies – NEwhere Inc., VapeCo Distribution LLC, and Kandypens – alleging the illegal sale of vaping products online without proper age verification, the sale of tobacco products without federal approval and marketing that promotes youth consumption of tobacco. In addition to $350,000 in penalties, both NEwhere Inc. and VapeCo Distribution LLC will now be subject to an array of strict regulations ensuring that they do not advertise, market or sell vape products to minors anywhere in the State of California. (The City remains in active litigation against Kandypens.) Among the myriad new stipulations:
- They cannot engage in any activity that is intended to directly or indirectly target minors in their promotions, advertising or marketing or that is intended to initiate, maintain or increase the incidence of youth vaping in California;
- They must activate and keep activated all available age-gating functions on their tobacco product brands’ social media accounts to prevent minors from accessing them;
- They cannot promote any of their tobacco products on media platforms directed to minors;
- They cannot use celebrities, influencers or models under the age of 30 nor can they use those with a substantial youth following to advertise, market, or promote tobacco products in California;
- They cannot sponsor any musical, athletic, artistic or other social/cultural event to promote their tobacco products to California consumers.
Additionally, the stipulation sets forth a series of steps that NEwhere Inc. and VapeCo Distribution LLC must take to ensure they are only selling to people 21 and older, including age verification with a government ID, payment only by personal check or credit card – no longer accepting gift cards, and only delivering to physical addresses matching personal checks or credit cards. In addition, both companies must comply with all federal, state, and local requirements regarding the sale and marketing of tobacco products.
Wednesday, in the face of this escalating public health emergency and the role played by flavors in making vaping attractive to minors, Feuer released a report to the LA City Council detailing options for restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products within the City of Los Angeles and recommending a ban on such sales.
Although electronic cigarettes purportedly were created to help adult smokers break their addiction to cigarettes, it is estimated that 3.6-million teens around the nation are now vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). As of September 19, the CDC has identified around 530 probable cases of vaping associated pulmonary injury (VAPI) across 38 states and since the end of August, eight people have died. On Monday, the CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to enhance its investigation into these illnesses.
Read the settlement agreement here.