Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has settled a $50 million lawsuit with e-cigarette retailer Eonsmoke and its owners for what she asserted was a marketing campaign by the company targeting young users of the nicotine products.
Eonsmoke, Healey said, used an online marketing strategy designed to appeal to people under 18 through advertisements on Instagram, Snapchat and other social media sites. But the company also failed to verify the age of its customers or ensure that its delivers were received by people old enough to buy smoking products in Massachusetts, she said.
On social media, Eonsmoke posted memes aimed at appealing to young people, Healey claimed. One, a joke on a common excuse among teenagers caught with a vape, said “Mom! It’s a USB drive!”
In another post, Eonsmoke used a photo of the Simpsons character Ralph launching himself into a home through a window in an apparent joke about a person rushing over to a significant other’s house only when told they had smoking products.
“Eonsmoke coordinated a campaign that intentionally targeted young people and sold dangerous and addictive vaping products directly to minors through their website,” Healey said in a statement. “We were the first to take action against this company and its owners, and today we are holding them accountable and permanently stopping them from conducting these illegal practices in our state.”
The settlement, filed Thursday in Suffolk County Superior Court, ordered Eonsmoke to stop selling, distributing or marketing tobacco products in Massachusetts, officials said. In addition to Eonsmoke agreeing to pay $50 million, co-owners Gregory Grishayev and Michael Tolmach will pay a combined $750,000 themselves.
The company dissolved in 2020, authorities said, but the co-owners will now need to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration and notify Healey’s office if they intend to sell tobacco products again in Massachusetts.
A number of Eonsmoke e-cigarette varieties, the lawsuit claimed, came in sweet or fruity flavors, such as cotton candy, bubble gum or sour patch. “It’s the targeting of [young people] that is so problematic. They’re looking to grow a whole new class of consumers,” Healey said in 2019.
The Centers for Disease Control said that most young people who begin vaping are introduced to the practice through flavored products. Many who begin with e-cigarettes, the agency said, later try burned cigarettes. While the latter is much more harmful, research has shown that any tobacco product is unsafe for young people.