The City of Chicago has submitted a lawsuit against nearly three dozen e-cigarette retailers for allegedly selling their products to minors online.
The City of Chicago filed a 136-page complaint in Cook County Court against 27 e-cigarette companies nationwide, alleging their online retail and marketing operations violate city codes by selling to minors. In 2016, Chicago raised the age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and accessories, to 21 years old.
“Chicago’s young people are our future, not Big Tobacco’s future customers,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “We will continue to take aggressive steps to keep our children free from the dangers of addiction, protect our residents and fight for a healthier Chicago.”
The City’s lawsuit reads, “Defendants actively market their products to Minors, both on Defendants’ websites and through social-media campaigns. Defendants’ practices are immoral and unethical, cause substantial injury to underage consumers of e-cigarettes, and offend Chicago’s strong public policy against the underage use of tobacco products.”
The Bureau of Consumer Protection and Business Affairs allegedly conducted tests to see if minors could purchase products from the e-cigarette companies online. Using a pre-paid Visa gift card, an 18-year-old man who remains anonymous, being identified only as “John Doe” in the complaint, successfully ordered “nicotine-containing e-liquids” from each of the defendants’ websites and had them delivered to the bureau’s office.
The filing states, “At no time before or during the purchase or delivery of the tobacco products or accessories did Defendants request a valid form of government identification or any other verification of Doe’s age. And at no time before or after the delivery of the tobacco products and accessories did Defendants call or email Doe to get more identifying information or confirm that Doe was 21 years old or older.”
Four physical stores have also been cited for selling to minors in the latest complaint, and the City of Chicago submitted another lawsuit in November 2018 against nine additional retailers. November’s lawsuit is still pending, but a Law Department spokesperson confirmed three have stopped selling e-cigarettes altogether and a fourth is no longer selling in the Chicago area.
In 2018 alone, 4.9 million minors used tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 20.8 percent in 2018. Among middle schoolers, it increased from 3.3 percent in 2017 to 4.9 percent in 2018.
“Following the playbook used by Big Tobacco, the manufacturers and sellers of e-cigarettes and ‘e-juices’ are attempting to lure youth into a harmful addiction with unfair marketing clearly aimed at young people,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “From my first day in office I have used every tool to support Chicago’s youth in making healthy choices for their futures and today’s actions build on that track record.” He added, “Chicago’s young people are our future, not Big Tobacco’s future. We will continue to take aggressive steps to keep our children free from the dangers of addiction, protect our residents and fight for a healthier Chicago.”
The filing alleges, “Defendants actively market their products to Minors, both on Defendants’ websites and through social-media campaigns. Defendants’ practices are immoral and unethical, cause substantial injury to underage consumers of e-cigarettes, and offend Chicago’s strong public policy against the underage use of tobacco products.”
In August 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent more than 1,000 warning letters to retailers and manufacturers of e-cigarettes across the U.S. regarding use of their products by teenagers. The federal agency referred to its plan of attack as the “largest coordinated enforcement effort in the FDA’s history.”