Florida Politics

Florida attorney general will investigate vaping companies amid uptick in youth use

As cases of vaping-related lung illnesses continue to surge nationwide, Florida’s attorney general announced Wednesday she is investigating nearly two dozen vaping companies that do business in the state and scrutinizing their marketing practices, particularly toward minors.

Florida law prohibits selling vaping products to anyone under 18, but youth vaping rates in the state have risen substantially, according to the state Department of Health.

State Attorney General Ashley Moody said the investigation, which follows a fact-gathering mission over the summer, will examine if how vaping products are promoted violates any laws, particularly those that prohibit selling the products to minors.

The state’s investigation joins similar efforts launched by other states including Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York — and some states have also announced temporary bans on some products to curb what is being called a “vaping epidemic.”

“We’re looking at it, we’re going to be thorough in our investigation, and we will hold accountable any companies that are intentionally targeting and misleading our youth regarding vaping products,” Moody said at a press conference Wednesday at a Tampa high school.

Moody added that her office would be issuing requests for information on marketing and any targeting of Florida youth to all the companies named in the investigation. She noted that those companies had been identified from some marketing materials already presented to her office and through the fact-finding mission.

But she said that the list could be added to during the ongoing investigation. “This is what our preliminary review has led us to in terms of requests for additional information,” she said.

As youth vaping rates have soared, so have cases of lung illnesses tied to the practice. Nationally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported nearly 1,300 lung cases associated with vaping or e-cigarettes as of Oct. 8, and a handful of deaths in several states.

In Florida alone, 68 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses have been reported to the state. A state Department of Health report in the spring indicated a nearly 60 percent increase in the use of e-cigarettes among high schoolers in the state from 2017 to 2018 and that nearly one in four Florida high school students say they are vaping.

The vaping companies under investigation in Florida include Njoy and JUUL — the latter unsuccessfully backed legislation in Tallahassee earlier this year to raise the smoking age to 21 as part of its stated effort to curb youth vaping.

But critics said JUUL also pushed language that session to pre-empt local governments from implementing stricter marketing regulations than the state, in an effort to block municipal efforts to further restrict vaping. The overall ban is being proposed again as legislation for the upcoming session in January.

The company has also recently been an active political donor, giving $50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida during the last quarter.

The vaping industry as a whole has come under fire both at the state and national level over the diseases. Last month, federal officials urged the public to stop using e-cigarettes, particularly those with products containing THC, as they study what might be responsible for the lung illnesses. Symptoms have included coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pains and nausea.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Emily L. Mahoney contributed reporting.

Elizabeth Koh is a state government reporter in the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times’ shared Tallahassee bureau, where she covers the Florida Legislature with a focus on health care politics and policy. A Brown University graduate, she covered local politics for the Washington Post and national politics for the Dallas Morning News’ D.C. bureau before joining the Herald in 2017.