OLYMPIA — Seven online vaping supply companies, including one licensed in Washington, were caught violating state laws that ban the sale of those products to people under 21, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Tuesday.
Five of them — including VanVal Vapor of Spokane and Bozeman, Montana — signed agreements to comply with state laws to verify a purchaser's age and paid fines totaling $132,000. One already was in litigation with the state and the seventh is talking with its attorney before deciding whether to sign an agreement or go to court.
Ferguson said investigators from his office went on the companies' web sites posing as 17-year-olds by entering false birthdates and were able to buy vaping products from one company. Later they entered false names and birthdates, which would have been caught if the company had verified the information. But they were able to purchase products from all seven companies.
Washington law requires an online vaping products company to state clearly on its website that a buyer must be at least 21; to have a separate company confirm the identity; to make sure credit card information matches the ID; to get signed certification from the purchaser saying they are who they claim to be and are at least 21; to ship products in boxes marked as containing vaping products and include information in the packaging about the state's ban on selling to minors.
The companies are scattered around the country and are just a few of the 148 websites that sell vaping products, Ferguson said.
"Any parent knows they've got a challenge trying to keep their kids away from these products," Ferguson said.
Penalties in the agreements ranged from $7,000 to $50,000. VanVal agreed to pay $30,000.
Annie Tegen, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the proliferation of online companies selling vaping projects makes enforcing compliance "like a game of Whac-A-Mole." The group wants the Legislature to ban all flavored vaping products that are popular with teens.
Nick Van Helden, co-owner of VanVal, said that company is closing down after four years of operation, although not just because of the penalty. The vapor products industry has become "incredibly saturated" and regulations have become stricter.
"It was an incredible journey," Van Helden said. "But it's all uphill from here."
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