Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Washington’s Juul settlement relies on a sting quota to keep e-cigs out of teens’ hands

UPDATED: Sun., April 24, 2022

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announces a settlement Wednesday with E-cigarette giant Juul Labs, which will pay $22.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Washington that alleged it intentionally targeted its products at teenagers while deceiving consumers about the addictiveness of its vaping products.  (Greg Gilbert)
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announces a settlement Wednesday with E-cigarette giant Juul Labs, which will pay $22.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Washington that alleged it intentionally targeted its products at teenagers while deceiving consumers about the addictiveness of its vaping products. (Greg Gilbert)

Not to imply that they aren’t already, but stores selling e-cigarette supplies should be extra careful about carding customers from now on.

The state’s recent settlement with Juul, the purveyor of nicotine-laced vaping liquids, comes with more than its healthy price tag of $22 million for marketing its products to the state’s youth. No guilt was admitted, which is how settlements work, but there’s more than just a cash payout involved.

It also requires the company to conduct “secret shopper” programs at e-cigarette retailers in all of the state’s 39 counties at a rate of 25 “stings” per month over two years, making sure the person behind the counter checks the age of the purchaser and follows the legal limits on the number of devices and pods.

These will be in addition to checks the state Liquor and Cannabis Board conducts.

In announcing the settlement earlier this month, Attorney General Bob Ferguson accused Juul of taking a page from the marketing playbook that Big Tobacco used for decades to get youngsters hooked on its products. But there was a definite 21st century twist, with flavors like mango and crème brûleé.

In the days of Joe Camel, most teens wouldn’t have known how to pronounce crème brûleé, let alone what it tasted like.

Juul, it should be noted, has been a player in Washington legislative campaigns over the last three years, with about $120,000 in contributions to legislators and political caucus committees on both sides. The Leadership Fund, which supports Senate Republicans and the Reagan Fund, which supports House Republicans, have each banked $30,000, and the Truman Fund, the House Democrats’ coffers, took $25,000. The Kennedy Fund, which supports Senate Democrats, got a relatively paltry $5,000.

Among Spokane-area legislators, Reps. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, and Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Okanogan, have each banked $2,000.

You can bet on it

The state is struggling with the transition from having residents place their sports bets with a bookie or various websites – which are illegal – to having them place sports bets at licensed Indian casinos. But as Washington Gambling Commissioner Steve Conway noted at a recent meeting of that body, March Madness highlighted the magnitude of the problem.

“There’s all kinds of websites for people to bet on these games,” he said. “I mean, sports betting is galloping away in our country.”

The Legislature set aside $6 million in state funds last year to create loans to casinos to help crack down on black market sports betting. But that’s difficult, commission staff said, because some online betting operations are based outside of the United States, making it difficult to bring any kind of legal action against them. Any help Conway could provide in explaining that to lawmakers would be appreciated, they added.

“The Legislature sometimes responds to an issue and they don’t clearly understand the complexity of how we can address it,” Conway said.

Considering he’s been in the state Senate for 12 years and was in the House for 18 before that, he probably knows whereof he speaks.

Seeing red?

Anyone looking for evidence of the Republican leanings of Spokane County need only check the Public Disclosure Commission filings for county offices.

All county offices are up for election this year. Commissioner terms are usually staggered, but because Spokane is expanding its board of commissioners from three to five, all of those positions, along with the other executive spots, are up for election.

With three weeks until the official start of candidate filing, 20 candidates have filed with the PDC. Of that total, 14 are Republicans, four are Democrats and two list themselves as independents.

More from this author