The largest maker of electronic cigarettes has agreed to stop targeting minors and claiming that its "e-cigarettes" are a safe alternative to smoking.
Smoking Everywhere reached a settlement with the state attorney general's office last week and agreed to pay $170,000.
The company and other electronic cigarette makers have claimed that e-cigarettes are safe because they contain no carcinogens or tar and produce no second-hand smoke, according to the state attorney general's office.
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last July that some electronic cigarettes do contain dangerous chemicals, including nicotine and carcinogens such as nitrosamines and diethylene glycol, commonly known as antifreeze.
"Smoking Everywhere aimed ads at minors and falsely claimed its products were safe," Attorney General Jerry Brown said in the news release.
Christine Gasparac, spokesperson for the attorney general's office, said the website featured Howard Stern saying "kids love 'em." The defendants did not admit any violation of the law, according to court documents. Company representatives could not be reached for comment.
On its website, Smoking Everywhere advertises e-cigarettes in flavors like mint, coffee,
chocolate, vanilla, cherry and apple and offers products with varying nicotine strengths.
“It looks like a cigarette, it tastes like a cigarette, it feels like a cigarette, but it isn't a cigarette – it's much better!” a video advertisement on the company’s website states. The ad focuses on the benefits of being able to smoke the e-cigarette indoors – in taxis, restaurants and airports.
The e-cigarette was developed in China in 2004, according to the World Health Organization. When puffed on, an indicator light glows, and a vapor is produced. The e-cigarette comes with a lithium battery and a charger.
The settlement with Smoking Everywhere is not the first between the state and an e-cigarette company. On Aug. 3, the attorney general's office announced an $85,000 settlement with Sottera, another major e-cigarette producer. Sottera, according to the settlement, had also targeted minors and made false claims about its product.
Other states, like Oregon, have sued e-cigarette companies for the same reasons.
In 2008, the World Health Organization published a news release stating that it "does not consider it to be a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit."
In a CNN article published last year, Elicko Taieb, the CEO of Smoking Everywhere, was quoted as saying, “There are no ingredients in our e-cigs that can cause cancer. However, it is a pretty new product, so we are not 100 percent sure of the side effects at this point.”
As part of the settlement with Smoking Everywhere, the company has agreed that it will not:
- Market or sell electronic cigarettes to minors. Its website will be age-restricted, and a customer will need to show a government-issued ID. Retail products will be behind a counter. Advertising must note the age restriction.
- Sell flavored electronic cigarette cartridges such as strawberry, mint or bubblegum that could appeal to minors.
- Advertise its products as a smoking cessation device unless the FDA approves them for that purpose.
- Claim, without reliable scientific evidence, that its products are safer than cigarettes, that they produce no second-hand smoke or that they are free of tobacco, tar or carcinogens.
Smoking Everywhere also agreed to implement quality control standards to eliminate harmful substances in its products and submit to independent audits.
In addition, the company will provide a Proposition 65 warning that its products contain nicotine, a chemical known to be addictive and to cause birth defects and reproductive harm. The warning must appear on product packaging, Smoking Everywhere's website and at retail sites.
Gasparac, with the attorney general's office, told California Watch that the agency is starting to investigate some of the smaller and newer companies.
Since the e-cigarette was introduced in the U.S. several years ago, it's been a battle between government agencies and e-cigarette companies. In September 2009, California passed a bill banning the sales of e-cigarettes in the state, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
In March 2009, the administration stopped the entry of Smoking Everywhere e-cigarettes into the U.S. on the basis that the products were unapproved and misbranded drug delivery devices being marketed as alternatives to traditional cigarettes, according to an American Medical News article. Smoking Everywhere and Sottera sued the agency for overstepping its role. A judge ruled in their favor.
Countries like Australia, Panama and Canada have banned the importation and sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine or outlawed them altogether.