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New York Lawsuit Accuses Online E-Cigarette Retailers of Selling to Minors


New York City sued several online e-cigarette vendors, accusing them of selling products to minors and operating without age-verification systems for internet sales.

The city’s suit, filed in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, demands that the 22 online retailers stop selling e-cigarettes to New York City residents under the age of 21 and to cease operating without adequate age-verification systems.

The 22 companies named in the lawsuit are based outside New York state. Several companies named in the lawsuit, including E-cigarette Empire LLC in Las Vegas, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Vaping products, including flavored vape liquids and pods.


Photo:

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Gregory Conley,

president of the American Vaping Association, an advocacy group, said that any online-sales company that violates the city’s tobacco laws should be subject to the same penalties as a business within New York City that violates the law.

“We recommend online retailers of vaping products set a national age of 21 and employ advanced third-party age verification for all purchases, even in areas that have not enacted laws raising the nicotine and tobacco purchasing age,” Mr. Conley said. “In many or most of the cases cited by the city, the problem is not a reckless disregard for age verification, but instead the failure of primarily small businesses to recognize that cities—and not just states—are raising the nicotine purchasing age to 21.”

In a statement, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “The kids of New York are the pride of our city, but to these companies, they’re just a source of profit. Preying on minors and hooking them on a potentially lethal, lifelong nicotine addiction is unconscionable.”

In 2013, New York City banned the sale of e-cigarettes to people under age 21.

According to the suit, investigators from the New York City Sheriff’s Office witnessed online purchases of e-cigarette products at the websites named in the lawsuit by using two volunteers over the age of 18 but under the age of 21. In some cases, retailers asked for a birth date, but still allowed sales to people under age 21, the suit said. Other companies named in the suit required no birth date to purchase products.

Vaping related illnesses are on the rise, and it appears to be related to a black market of THC vapes. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez sat down with doctors and experts to understand what’s happening with the outbreak.

The city’s lawsuit follows New York’s first vaping-related death. On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said a 17-year-old from the Bronx died from a vaping-associated respiratory illness.

There have been 110 reports from New York physicians of severe pulmonary illness among patients who said they were using at least one vape product before becoming ill, according to state health officials. New York’s youngest reported patient is 14.

Nationwide, the number of cases of confirmed and probable vaping-associated lung illnesses has risen to 1,080 across 48 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 24 deaths across the U.S., according to the CDC and state health departments.

The CDC has said that people should avoid vaping altogether.

In New York, health officials in September passed a temporary sales ban on flavored e-cigarette and vaping products, arguing it would help stem a rise in e-cigarette use among minors. The ban was set to go into effect on Oct. 4, but last week judges granted a temporary restraining order that stopped the state from enforcing the ban. Judges are expected to rule on a preliminary injunction this month.

Write to Melanie Grayce West at melanie.west@wsj.com

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