City Attorney sues online tobacco retailers for violating local flavored tobacco and e-cigarette bans

Lawsuit alleges online retailers violated city laws intended to protect youth from harmful tobacco use

SAN FRANCISCO (December 5, 2023) — San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced a lawsuit today against three online tobacco retailers for unlawfully selling flavored tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to consumers in San Francisco. The lawsuit, filed against Millennial One, Inc., Gashiro Technology LLC, and DaSmokey LLC, alleges the retailers violated local laws established to prevent youth nicotine addiction and tobacco use, which is unlawful conduct that also violates the state Unfair Competition Law.

City Attorney David Chiu speaks at a press conference in December 2023

“These tobacco retailers are putting our children’s lives at risk with their flagrant disregard of the law,” said City Attorney David Chiu. “Tobacco companies reinvented their products to appeal to young people with candy-flavored e-cigarettes, unraveling decades of progress reducing youth tobacco use. In response, San Francisco put children first and banned the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes. San Francisco and California have done a good job of enforcing against brick-and-mortar tobacco retailers, but online retailers are the next frontier in this fight. We hope our lawsuit sends a clear message to retailers that selling these products will not be tolerated in San Francisco.”

“Flavored tobacco products harm the health of our youth, and especially youth in communities of color,” said San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip. “It is imperative that we use every tool at our disposal to prevent smoking addiction in San Francisco, and I applaud City Attorney David Chiu and his office on remaining diligent in their efforts to protect the health of all San Franciscans.”

“We have worked decades to decrease tobacco usage and to try to end nicotine addiction by banning flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes targeting young people,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton. “San Francisco overwhelmingly voted against e-cigarettes in 2019 with over 81% of the votes, but we know there are tobacco retailers that continue to violate our city laws by selling banned products online to San Francisco residents. That is why I am proud to stand with City Attorney David Chiu and our community members to send a strong message to retailers that they cannot continue violating our local laws.”

“We applaud City Attorney David Chiu and his team for their leadership in enforcing San Francisco’s pioneering law ending the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products,” said John Bowman, Executive Vice President of U.S. Programs for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Once again, San Francisco is setting a great example for California and the nation. Each day, more than 4,300 kids in the United States try an e-cigarette for the first time and illegal online sales make it far too easy. This lawsuit will help protect San Francisco’s younger generation from becoming addicted to these nicotine-loaded products.”

“Youth leaders across the city of San Francisco are eager to support this critical health equity issue as tobacco companies find relentless strategies to continue to target youth to become their next generation of consumers,” said Fahad Qurashi, Chief Program Officer of Youth Leadership Institute. “This lawsuit builds upon the valiant public health efforts of community leaders to ensure we continue to put youth first in reducing access to tobacco and hold online tobacco retailers accountable.

The proliferation of flavored e-cigarettes has threatened decades of progress in reducing youth tobacco use. Flavored e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth in the United States as a result of the tobacco industry marketing a variety of flavors that appeal to youth, such as gummy bear, cotton candy, and fruit punch. The industry skillfully keeps up with evolving youth trends, now offering tobacco products in flavors like matcha, boba, and croissant.

In 2023, 2.8 million U.S. middle and high school students, or 10 percent of high school students and 4.6 percent of middle school students, reported currently using e-cigarettes. In 2021, 20.1 percent of San Francisco’s high school students had tried e-cigarettes, and 7.9 percent reported currently using e-cigarettes.

The consequences of hooking a new generation on tobacco and nicotine products are dire. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain and adversely impact learning, memory, and attention. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if youth smoking continues at the current rate, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness.

Due to the alarming public health risks of flavored tobacco products, San Francisco enacted laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of flavored tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to any person in San Francisco. Supervisor Shamann Walton and former City Attorney Dennis Herrera spearheaded San Francisco’s successful effort to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes, and former Supervisor Malia Cohen authored and passed the City’s ordinance banning flavored tobacco products.

Defendants Millennial One, Inc., Gashiro Technology LLC, and DaSmokey LLC are California-based companies that sell a variety of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, directly to consumers via their websites. These companies are flouting City laws by selling flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, to consumers in San Francisco.

A recent report from researchers at UC San Diego suggests that as California and local jurisdictions have taken action to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and enforced these laws against brick-and-mortar retailers, online sales of flavored tobacco products have increased. Enforcing these laws against online retailers, as San Francisco is doing in this lawsuit, is key to protecting youth from these dangerous products.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the People of the State of California and the People of the City and County of San Francisco, alleges violations of San Francisco’s ban on flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes as well as violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law. The People seek injunctive relief, civil penalties, and attorneys’ fees.

The case is People of the State of California and People of the City and County of San Francisco v. Millennial One, Inc., et al., San Francisco Superior Court, No. CGC-23-610794. The complaint can be found here.