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City files new lawsuit against 27 e-cigarette retailers

A school-based survey shows nearly 1 in 11 U.S. students have used marijuana in electronic cigarettes, heightening concern about the new popularity of vaping among teens.

A high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus. | AP File Photo/Steven Senne

The City of Chicago filed a voluminous lawsuit against more than two dozen companies that sell e-cigarette vapor liquid and accessories, alleging their online retail and marketing operations violate the city’s municipal code by targeting and selling to minors.

“Chicago’s young people are our future, not Big Tobacco’s future customers,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “We will continue to take aggressive steps to keep our children free from the dangers of addiction, protect our residents and fight for a healthier Chicago.”

The 136-page complaint was filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court against 27 companies scattered across the country.

“Defendants actively market their products to Minors, both on Defendants’ websites and through social-media campaigns,” the suit reads. “Defendants’ practices are immoral and unethical, cause substantial injury to underage consumers of e-cigarettes, and offend Chicago’s strong public policy against the underage use of tobacco products.”

In the complaint, the city laid out how the Bureau of Consumer Protection and Business Affairs conducted tests to see if a minor could purchase products from the e-cigarette companies.

Using a pre-paid Visa gift card, an 18-year-old man — identified only as “John Doe” — ordered “nicotine-containing e-liquids” from each of the defendants’ websites and had them delivered to the bureau’s office at Ogden and Western.

“At no time before or during the purchase or delivery of the tobacco products or accessories did Defendants request a valid form of government identification or any other verification of Doe’s age,” the lawsuit states. “And at no time before or after the delivery of the tobacco products and accessories did Defendants call or email Doe to get more identifying information or confirm that Doe was 21 years old or older.”

Chicago raised the age to buy tobacco products — which includes e-cigarettes and accessories — to 21 in 2016.

The Chicago Sun-Times reached out to each of the 27 companies for comment, but none returned messages.

Four brick-and-mortar stores have also been cited for selling e-cigarette materials to minors, as well, according to a city Law Department spokesman.

The city filed another lawsuit last November against nine other e-cigarette retailers, alleging those companies also targeted minors. That suit has yet to be resolved, but, according to a Law Department spokesman, three of those companies have stopped selling e-cigarettes altogether and a fourth has left the Chicago market.