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City attacking on several fronts in fight to keep e-cigarettes away from minors

Video by Fran Spielman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who plans this week to open another front in his battle to keep e-cigarettes away from children, responded this way Sunday to news that severe federal regulations were also days off: “Better late than never.”

But Emanuel, a major critic of President Donald Trump’s administration, said if the Food and Drug Administration under Trump’s watch does indeed announce strict new regulations on flavored e-cigarettes — which critics say kids and teens are drawn to — then he would clap his hands.

“If they do what they say they’re going to do and restrict the e-cigarette products and protect our youth, I would applaud it,” Emanuel said during a phone chat Sunday. “I have no problem doing that.”

Emanuel is quick to point out that he was among the first to take steps at the local level to regulate the industry — efforts that will continue this week.

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City attorneys plan to file a lawsuit Tuesday against nine online companies that illegally sold nicotine products to underage customers in Chicago.

The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has also sent letters to 32 retailers and manufacturers it believes may be engaging in unlawful and deceptive marketing that targets minors. Each was asked to hand over documents related to marketing practices, product design and online product sales policies, as well as share information on how many Chicagoans use their product and how it effects their health.

A city spokesman also pointed out that 15 Chicago-based retail stores have been caught in sting operations selling e-cigarettes, tobacco and related paraphernalia to minors in recent months. The stings, which are ongoing, involve a minor walking into a store and trying to make a purchase.

“This is Marlboro Man and Joe Camel all over again,” Emanuel said. “They focus on kids and get them hooked early … none of this is new.”

In April an ordinance championed by Emanuel was approved that requires stores selling e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to post a sign near entrances to warn the public of the dangers of the products.

In September, Emanuel backed legislation passed by the City Council that doubled taxes on e-cigarettes and required they be sold from behind store counters.

The city’s lead attorney, Ed Siskel, said even though Emanuel has only a few months left in office, whoever leads the city next will take a similarly tough stance against e-cigarettes.

“I am confident that any new administration will pick this up and continue to carry it forward. I don’t think anyone can defend selling these products to kids,” Siskel said.

Emanuel said Sunday he hopes for congressional hearings on the deceptive marketing strategies e-cigarette companies use to target minors.

“I would hope FDA takes sweeping action and Congress does what they’re supposed to do and call these executives in,” he said.