Massachusetts to probe e-cigarette maker Juul over sales to minors

BOSTON, July 24 (Reuters) - Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said on Tuesday her office is investigating e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc and two online retailers to determine whether they violated state law by failing to prevent minors from buying their products.

The fast-growing Silicon Valley e-cigarette start-up is faced increased scrutiny due their popularity with teenagers.

The investigation will seek to determine how effective Juul is at preventing minors from buying its products and what, if anything, it does to prevent online retailers that do not verify a buyer’s age from purchasing its products, Healey’s office said.

The attorney general’s office said it was sending cease-and-desist letters to two online companies, Direct Eliquid LLC and Eonsmoke LLC, demanding they stop selling Juul and other e-cigarette products to Massachusetts residents without adequate age verification systems.

San Francisco-based Juul, launched in 2015, had no immediate comment.

E-cigarettes are handheld electronic devices that vaporize a fluid that often contains the addictive substance nicotine and a flavor component. The devices have been grabbing market share from traditional tobacco companies and are available in different flavors.

Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health care and anti-tobacco advocates have become increasingly concerned that the Juul e-cigarette, with its sleek design that resembles a USB flash drive, has become popular among teens in the United States.

According to a 2016 report by the U.S. surgeon general, e-cigarette use increased 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on April 24 announced a crackdown on the sale of e-cigarettes and tobacco products to minors, particularly those developed by Juul.

At the time the FDA issued 40 warning letters to retailers, including multiple 7-Eleven stores, for violations over sales of Juul products to minors. It also required Juul to turn over documents relating to its marketing practices.

After the announcement, Juul said it would spend $30 million over the next three years to support prevention and education programs and to raising the minimum age in the United States to buy tobacco products to over 21. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)