E-cigarette maker accepts California marketing limits

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A leading U.S. maker of electronic cigarettes has agreed not to target its sales and advertisements to minors or to claim its products are safe alternatives to tobacco, under a consent judgment reached with California.

The settlement, announced on Friday by state Attorney General Jerry Brown, comes weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it intended to regulate e-cigarettes, battery-powered devices made to look and feel like conventional cigarettes.

Rather than actual smoke, users inhale a vaporized liquid nicotine solution contained in cartridges that fit inside the device. Some cartridges come in flavors like strawberry, chocolate, cookies-and-cream or banana, a feature critics say is designed to appeal to youngsters.

Florida-based Smoking Everywhere and other e-cigarette makers have claimed their products are safe because they contain no carcinogens and no tar and do not produce second-hand smoke.

But the FDA has found that some brands contain a variety of dangerous chemicals, including nicotine and carcinogens such as nitrosamines, and that one brand also contained diethylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze.

The FDA last month warned five makers of e-cigarettes that marketing the devices as quit-smoking aids violates federal laws against unsubstantiated health claims in advertising.

The California consent decree bars Smoking Everywhere from promoting its products as smoking-cessation devices unless the FDA approves them for that purpose, or from claiming they are safer than conventional cigarettes without reliable scientific evidence.

Claims that e-cigarettes lack second-hand smoke, tobacco or carcinogens are likewise banned under the agreement.

Moreover, the products must carry warning labels stating that nicotine in the devices is a chemical known by the state of California to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.

The restrictions on marketing claims, as well as prohibitions on advertisements aimed at young people, apply to all Smoking Everywhere promotional materials that appear in California, including over the Internet.

Ads aimed at minors are defined as those with images of people who appear younger than 28, or “cartoons, fashion or music ... intended to appeal to people under the legal smoking age.”

Sales of Smoking Everywhere products are banned outright to anyone under 18 years of age as part of the settlement.

Other provisions ban the company from selling its flavored cartridges in California and from selling any of its products in vending machines or in self-service displays that are accessible to minors.

Smoking Everywhere customers will also be required to prove they are 18 or older by showing government-issued ID.

Editing by Jim Marshall