SEATTLE - Seven vape companies across the country, including a Washington state vendor, were caught illegally selling products to minors online as part of an investigation from Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Five of those companies sold hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally over the past four years, according to a release from Ferguson's office on Tuesday.
As part of Ferguson's efforts to crack down on vape product sellers, investigators compiled a list of 148 online vape sellers. Investigators then posed as minors using false identification to purchase vape products online. Of those 148 companies, investigators caught seven who attempted to sell products to the investigators posted as minors.
The five companies, based out of New York, Nevada, Minnesota, Colorado, and Spokane, Washington will face, in total, $132,00 in fines from the AG's office and the money paid will go to continued enforcement of the law. Collectively, all five product sellers have sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in products over the last four years, Ferguson said.
Ferguson's office also said the companies agreed to enter into legally binding agreements to change their online sales and advertising practices to comply with Washington's youth access law.
Of those, a California vape company faces an ongoing lawsuit from the AG regarding prior violations regarding failure to provide a vendor license. A seventh company failed to comply with the investigation and could face a lawsuit.
"Any parent knows they’ve got a challenge trying to keep their kids away from this product and this epidemic is the word that’s been used will increase in youth middle schoolers like my kids or high schoolers," Ferguson said in a Zoom conference on Tuesday.
"The increase of the use of vaping products by those middles schoolers and high schoolers has gone up dramatically in Washington state and across the country, so as a parent, we do all we can to avoid that. From my perspective, it does not help when you have seven companies around the country one in Washington state that isn’t following the rules," said Ferguson.
Due to Washington state's law, nicotine-based product sellers must verify the age of the purchasers, such as by using a third-party verification service.
In 2016, Ferguson helped draft Washington state's age verification law. And in 2019, he led the effort to raise the purchase age to 21-years-old for vapor and tobacco products. That law went into effect on January 1st and in September, Ferguson sued Juul, the largest e-cigarette company in the nation for illegally targeting underage consumers in ads and product design.