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North Carolina Says It Is Suing 8 E-Cigarette Companies

North Carolina says it is taking action against e-cigarette companies it alleges target their products at children.
Steven Senne
North Carolina says it is taking action against e-cigarette companies it alleges target their products at children.

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

North Carolina is suing electronic cigarette companies that it accuses of selling products to children, amid a major increase in U.S. teens getting hooked on vaping.

The state's attorney general, Josh Stein, announced Tuesday that his office will be filing lawsuits in state court against eight companies that sell vaping products. His office is accusing these companies of "aggressively targeting children and do not require appropriate age verification when selling these dangerous and addictive products."

North Carolina law prohibits the sale of e-cigarette products to those younger than 18.

Earlier this year, Stein filed a similar lawsuit against the popular e-cigarette company Juul.

"Our complaints allege that these eight e-cig companies are helping to fuel an epidemic of vaping among high school and middle school students," Stein said in a statement. "One look at their marketing materials demonstrates just how egregious their sales tactics are — with flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear, unicorn, and graham cracker, they're clearly targeting young people."

The companies targeted by the lawsuits are Beard Vape, Direct eLiquid, Electric Lotus, Electric Tobacconist, Eonsmoke, Juice Man, Tinted Brew and VapeCo. Most of the companies did not immediately responded to NPR's request for comment.

"We absolutely affirm that these products don't belong in the hands of children," Bruce Gibson, the CEO of The Electric Tobacconist, said in a statement. "As such we have an extensive age verification platform that means a purchase can't be completed until a person's age has been established through a third party platform."

"To teenagers, the health and addiction risks of vaping are simply too high," Stein said. "That is why my office is asking the court to protect our kids by shutting down these operations in our state."

In the lawsuit against Juul, filed in May, Stein's office asked a court to block the company from selling e-cigarette products to minors in North Carolina and not allow the company to sell any flavors online other than tobacco or menthol.

Many e-cigarette companies have said their products help cigarette smokers to quit. But there's also vast evidence that many young people who have never smoked are vaping.

"While tobacco use among teens dropped from 28 percent to just above 5 percent from 2000 to 2017, the rise of e-cigarettes has led the number of high schoolers using tobacco products back up to nearly 30 percent and 7 percent among middle schoolers," Stein's office said.

The Food and Drug Administration has warned that teen vaping in the U.S. has reached "an epidemic proportion" and is trying to reduce the sales and marketing of the devices to teens.

Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the addictive chemical found in cigarettes.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, nicotine is particularly dangerous to young people. "Nicotine exposure during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and harm the developing brain," it said. Last year, 20% of high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the past month.

San Francisco officials recently voted to ban the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in that city.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.