- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah officials have slashed fines for three online electronic cigarette marketers from $1.1 million to $31,150.

They declined comment on why the Utah Division of Consumer Protection quietly settled civil cases with companies that had been cited for more than 440 violations after allegedly deceiving and ripping off customers.

Department of Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton told The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1zSe94o ) the agency will “let the full terms of the settlement agreements speak for themselves.”

Those documents, released by the department in response to a records request from the nonprofit Truth in Advertising, indicate two of the companies simply couldn’t afford to pay more.

Fines were reduced from $822,500 to $16,450 for Vapex LLC of Bountiful, from $235,000 to $4,700 for Sinless Vapor of Heber City and from $45,000 to $10,000 for OZN Web LLC of Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

The companies agreed to take down unsubstantiated advertising claims, such as describing e-cigarettes as a “healthy alternative” to tobacco products that can be smoked anywhere.

They also promised to spell out their cancellation and return policies, to reimburse certain customers, to obtain proper telemarketing permits in Utah and to comply with state consumer laws.

“Hundreds of consumers got burned by these electronic cigarette companies who made false claims and offered free product trials, which in reality were not free as the online marketers racked up pricey automatic shipments to credit cards without consumers’ knowledge or their consent,” said Commerce Director Francine Giani in a statement in August.

The state fielded hundreds of consumer complaints against the companies.

E-cigarettes began to appear in the United States in late 2006, but marketing has exploded in recent years. The devices heat liquid nicotine into a vapor. They are often described as a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but experts say nicotine - including the nicotine in e-cigarettes - is especially harmful to children.

Dozens of states outlaw the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and federal officials have proposed a nationwide ban on such sales.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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