Democratic Attorney General Nominee Letitia “Tish” James Vows to Investigate E-Cigarette Companies that Advertise to Teens and Children

NEW YORK -- With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcement earlier this year that teen use of electronic cigarettes had reached “epidemic” proportions, Democratic Attorney General nominee Letitia “Tish” James today vowed to investigate and take legal action against manufacturers who use deceptive advertisements to target children.

“These companies are using the same playbook that has long been banned from cigarette advertising to sell addictive and untested e-cigs to children. Let’s be clear: they’re putting profits over children’s health -- and it has to stop. Just like Attorneys General did in the 1990s with tobacco companies, I will investigate these manufacturers and, if appropriate, sue them to protect the health of New York’s children,” said Democratic Attorney General nominee Letitia "Tish" James.

In 1998, major tobacco companies signed a groundbreaking “Master Settlement Agreement” with Attorneys General from 46 states, which forbade the companies from advertising to children and resulted in billions of dollars in fines paid to the states. The agreement specifically banned cigarette advertisements that included cartoons and celebrity endorsements, prohibited marketing cigarettes with fruity flavors, and prevented cigarette companies from sponsoring events like concerts and sports games with large child audiences.

After the 1998 agreement was signed, youth smoking rates dropped precipitously.

E-cigarettes were not regulated by the FDA until 2016. The agency now requires all e-cigarette companies to submit a “premarket tobacco application” to continue selling products -- but has delayed implementation of this requirement from 2018 to 2022. In the meantime, e-cigarette products remain on store shelves, and are falling into kids’ hands.

Today, e-cigarette companies, many of which are owned by major tobacco companies, are using the same deceptive -- and banned -- cigarette advertising tactics of the 1980s and 1990s to target children. For example, a marketing campaign from e-cigarette company Juul titled “VAPORIZED” featured young people on bright backgrounds, encouraging teens to buy and use the company’s devices. Social media posts from influencers boosted Juul’s popularity, further encouraging teens to use the product. Their marketing is clearly aimed at kids, with flavors like “fruit medley,” “creme brulee,” “cool mint,” “mango,” and “cool cucumber.”

The marketers’ efforts appear to be working. More than 70 percent of teens have been exposed to e-cigarette advertisements, and between 2011 and 2016, the rate of e-cigarette use by high school students grew 650 percent. Worryingly, roughly one-third of teen e-cigarette users reported smoking cigarettes or other combustible tobacco products within six months of using an e-cigarette. This is despite laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco products to kids under 18 -- and under 21 in some localities -- including New York City.

As Attorney General, Tish James will use the same tactics state Attorneys General used in the 1998 “Master Settlement Agreement” to investigate e-cigarette companies that target children and sue them to prohibit the practice. She will:

  • Pursue retailers who violate age limits on the sale of tobacco products.

  • Fight for legislation making 21 the standard age to purchase tobacco products statewide.

  • Bring litigation against marketers and manufacturers who engage in deceptive practices, including intentionally marketing to kids who are under the legal age for purchasing tobacco.