LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced a settlement with two vaping companies that blocks them from distributing and marketing nicotine products to minors.
As part of the settlement, NEwhere Inc. and VapeCo Distribution LLC also each agreed to pay $175,000 and must adhere to stricter regulations to ensure children won't obtain or be enticed by their products.
“This settlement sends an extremely serious, strong message to an industry that up to now has had very little regulation associated with it, and I hope it becomes a model for how other vape companies are dealt with by other levels of government,” Feuer said.
“We're going to take other steps soon that we'll be announcing as we grapple with the vaping epidemic, especially among our kids, and as we recognize it's up to us to prevent history from repeating itself,” he said.
A lawsuit filed last October alleged that NEwhere and VapeCo, as well as a third vaping company called Kandypens, used social media and marketing tactics to draw children to their products and did not use child-resistant packaging. Kandypens is still in ongoing litigation with the city.
Feuer said he doesn't normally disclose investigation tactics, but members of his office posed as 15-year-olds and were successful in purchasing nicotine products. The minimum age to purchase tobacco products in California is 21.
“As soon as we filed lawsuits against these companies, almost immediately both companies took action to block underage kids from getting access on the internet to their products, and Kandypens took the step of taking e-liquid off its website,” Feuer said.
Among other stipulations, the companies cannot use “celebrities or influencers” under the age of 30 to promote their products.
Feuer referenced a popular rapper who partnered with a vaping company, noting that the entertainer hosted the Nickelodeon “Kids' Choice Awards.”
As of Friday, eight people in the United States have died this year -- including one from Los Angeles County -- and more than 530 people fallen sick due to vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said it has not yet determined the exact cause of the lung illnesses people have reported. Symptoms from the cases included shortness of breath or coughing and possible vomiting and diarrhea.
The CDC said most patients reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC or cannabis-based products, with some reports of people combining that substance with nicotine.
On Thursday, Feuer called for a citywide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products. He specifically referenced flavors like cereal, candy and fruits in products that he wants taken off the market.
The city attorney sent a report to the City Council outlining restrictions that have been enacted in other cities and states that aim to curtail sales of electronic cigarettes, hookah devices and other products that distribute nicotine. Some of the prohibitions suggested include regulating vaping advertising or coupons, as well as consideration of an outright ban on the substances and devices.