Five vaping companies have settled with the state of Washington and agreed to pay more than $130,000 to avoid lawsuits for illegal online sales. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the penalties Tuesday, along with describing the sting conducted by his office.
“Parents are working hard to combat the youth vaping epidemic, but it can be a challenge,” Ferguson said. “That challenge becomes more difficult when companies don’t respect the rules. Companies that sell vapor products in Washington must follow our laws.”
The AG’s office began by creating a list of 148 online vape product sellers. They posed as minors or used false identification to attempt online purchases of products containing nicotine. Seven of the vendors sold products to the “underage” customers without following Washington’s rules, which require third-party identity verification. Five of the seven have cooperated and settled with the state.
Two of the five companies also sold products online to Washington customers without holding a valid license from the state. The state’s “vapor products delivery license” costs $250.
One of the five cooperating companies is from Washington (Spokane). The rest are based in other states. All five companies have signed agreements to change their online sales and advertising practices to comply with Washington law. The companies that sold a higher volume of products online or didn’t have a license to sell to Washington residents will pay more to “resolve the investigation and avoid a lawsuit.”
According to the AG, between them the five companies have sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of vaping products in Washington during the last four years. The companies that have settled with the state (and the amounts they will pay) are:
Ferguson is pursuing two other companies that he said have not cooperated with the state’s investigation. The attorney general filed a lawsuit in August against California-based E-Juice Vapors for failing to comply with Washington online age verification requirements. South Carolina-based Vaping Zone is “on a short timeline to reach a resolution,” according to Ferguson, or a lawsuit will be filed.
Ferguson also filed suit against Juul Labs in September, accusing the e-cigarette giant of targeting underage customers. However, the Juul lawsuit—like most other attorneys generals’ Juul legal actions—doesn’t accuse the company of actually selling products to minors.
Most online vape sellers—like the 141 targeted by Ferguson that did not violate Washington law—use modern third-party age verification systems, and research the laws of all the states in which they sell products. Online retailers that aren’t careful set themselves up for stings like this one, which will become more common in the future.
California vaping advocate Stefan Didak warns that similar stings are probably already occurring in California, which has stringent requirements for online sales.