Photo Courtesy of NYC
According to the lawsuit, online e-cigarette retailers, including those named in the action, target their sales to young people by offering products that taste like candy, children’s breakfast cereals or sugary beverages.
By Forum Staff
The City has filed a federal lawsuit against 22 national online e-cigarette vendors for peddling their products to underage New Yorkers, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Acting Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana recently announced.
The complaint alleges the online retailers don’t have age-verification systems in place and market their addictive goods to minors in violation of City law. Online e-cigarette retailers, including those named in the lawsuit, target their sales to young people by offering products that taste like candy, children’s breakfast cereals or sugary beverages, the suit says.
According to the administration, a joint investigation conducted by the City Sheriff’s Office and the Law Department during July and August 2019 focused on the age-verification practices of national online retailers and revealed that city residents under the age of 21 were able to freely access the websites of the companies named in the lawsuit and purchase e-cigarette products in violation of Local Law 94 of 2013.
Many of the websites did not use age-verification services, which utilize databases of government records to verify the identity and age of purchasers before transactions can be completed. In many cases, purchases went through even though the buyers indicated that they were younger than 21. A number of the defendant companies have been previously cited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for illegally selling to minors.
De Blasio acknowledged that the city has faced the public health crisis caused by tobacco products for many years. Over the last decade, the five boroughs have seen a surge of e-cigarette use, especially by minors, even as rates of use of traditional cigarettes by both adults and youth in the city have consistently declined.
As recently as 2017, 1 in 6 city public high school students reported having used e-cigarettes within the past month, according to the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That number has likely climbed even further over the last two years in light of the dramatic increase in e-cigarette use nationwide. Preliminary results from a 2019 survey released just last month indicate that 27.5 percent of high school students nationwide are now current e-cigarette users. In 2018, 1 in 15 (7 percent) of city public middle school students reported having used e-cigarettes within the past month.
In the city, retailers are prohibited from selling e-cigarettes and related products to those younger than 21. A separate license is required to sell e-cigarettes; and use of e-cigarettes is prohibited in all places where smoking is prohibited, including schools, parks, and many workplaces. Additionally, pharmacies are no longer allowed to sell any tobacco or e-cigarette products.
“By selling their addictive and dangerous products to residents under 21 years of age, these defendants have violated a local law which was implemented to stem the epidemic of vaping among young residents and to prevent a new generation from being addicted to nicotine,” Pestana said. “While the City Department of Health warns of a sharp rise in vaping among middle and high school students, defendants are targeting their products to these young people, further undermining the public health. We’ve asked the court to require these retailers to comply with the law and pay damages towards the costs of abating the crisis of underage e-cigarette use within the city.”