Los Angeles Cracks Down on Businesses Selling Tobacco to Teens

The city of Los Angeles is cracking down on retailers selling tobacco products to teens.

The NBC4 I-Team has been covering the vaping epidemic, showing how kids are getting their hands on the devices in the first place.

You have to be 21 years old to buy vaping products in California. But as the I-Team found in a recent roundtable with teens, it's easy to get around that.

City Attorney Mike Feuer said he's called for all flavored vape products to be taken off the market in LA but it hasn't been passed yet.

This month, NBC4 interviewed students from Beverly Vista Middle School.

Yoni said he walked into a bathroom and saw two eighth graders.

"They had Juuls in their hand, but they saw me walk in, and they stopped," Yoni said.

Albert Melena, a drug prevention advocate for the San Fernando Valley Partnership, says many of the vapes teens are getting are counterfeits.

They look real and even advertise safety, he said.

But Melena says there's no way to confirm company claims because the products aren't tied to regulated companies. The I-Team could not find a contact.

"You may be able to find a social media page but there is no contact, nothing else," he said. "It is just to create the illusion that this is a legitimate product."

But it's not, he said.

Feuer said officials are on the lookout for sales to minors and for counterfeit materials.

"We will prosecute when we confront those issues," he said.

They have their work cut out for them.

According to the city, as of this month, there are more than 4,000 permitted retailers who sell tobacco or vaping products in LA.

Feuer said inspectors check to see if the businesses have licenses and are compliant with regulations.

Since 2015, the city has issued 242, 30-day suspensions for first-time violations and another 24, 90-day suspensions to second time violators, data analyzed by the I-Team shows.

This is all as a result of businesses selling tobacco products to underage decoys.

There's no information about whether those products were real, or counterfeits. It takes four violations for a business to lose its license. That hasn't happened in the past five years.

Feuer said more could be done to make sure that some of the counterfeit liquids and the cartridges aren't being sold.

"Always, there's more that could be done," he said. "There's a limited universe of law enforcement officials that can be on the street to conduct those kinds of investigations."

The group of teens interviewed by NBC4 also said it's easy for minors to buy vaping products online.

The city of LA is also going after those retailers. The city just settled a case against one online vaping company for $350,000. While the settlement isn't an admission of fault, the company also agreed not to do anything to target teens in future advertising.

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