State sues e-cigarette maker, says it targets youth market
BOSTON -- Massachusetts has sued a national retailer of electronic cigarette and vaping products, alleging the company violated state law by targeting minors for sales of its merchandise, Attorney General Maura Healey announced Thursday.
The complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court alleges that Clifton, New Jersey-based Eonsmoke LLC violated Massachusetts consumer laws by targeting underage consumers through its marketing and advertising, and failed to verify online buyers' ages or ensure shipments were received by a person 21 or older, as the state requires.
The lawsuit is the first filed by the attorney general since her office launched a broad investigation of the e-cigarette industry last summer.
"Eonsmoke took a page out of the Big Tobacco playbook by peddling nicotine to young people on social media," said Healey, a Democrat, in a statement.
Healey said the company's products, marketed on social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, contain some of the highest nicotine concentrations on the vaping market and include flavored products with names like "gummy bear" and "cereal loops."
Eonsmoke did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The company's chief executive, Michael Tolmach, wrote in an email to The Boston Globe, which first reported the lawsuit, that Eonsmoke shares Healey's concerns about youth vaping and has "taken some of the most aggressive actions of anyone in the industry to combat youth usage including ceasing sales to the state on our website, scrubbing our social media channels, and enacting strict age verification online."
The company stopped selling its products to online customers in Massachusetts after the attorney general's office sent a cease and desist letter in September, according to Healey, who said in her statement that the investigation of other vaping companies, including industry giant Juul Labs, continues.
North Carolina earlier this month became the first state to sue Juul, asking a court to limit what flavors it can sell and ensure underage teens can't buy its vaping products.
Josh Stein, the state's attorney general, accused Juul of causing an "epidemic" among young people through its marketing practices. A company spokesman said it was taking steps to reduce youth vaping, including strengthening online age verification and shuttering some social media accounts.
Healey announced in February that it had sent a cease and desist letter to another online e-cigarette retailer, California-based Kilo E-Liquids, saying the company violated Massachusetts laws regulating the sale and advertisement of tobacco products.
Kilo E-Liquids no longer sells to consumers in Massachusetts, according to its website.
Also Thursday, organizations including the American Heart Association lobbied Massachusetts lawmakers to pass several pieces of legislation that aim to curtail vaping by children and young adults.
The measures include a proposed 75 percent excise tax on the wholesale price of e-cigarettes, which was included in the Senate version of a proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but has not yet passed the House.
The advocates also back a bill that would outlaw the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the state.
Lisa Deck, 43, North Attleborough, a nonsmoker who has survived four strokes and serves as a national volunteer spokeswoman for the heart association, said the growing prevalence of vaping worries her as a mother of two children, ages 10 and 12.
"I tell my kids, don't be tricked. Know it is still bad for you, it's still tobacco, it's still harming you even if it says it's cotton candy," said Deck. "I want them to educated and I don't want them to be targeted."
Associated Press writer Mark Pratt contributed to this report.