CHICAGO — The City of Chicago continues to crack down on illegal sales of e-cigarettes to underage kids, filing a lawsuit against 27 online stores and four retail shops in Chicago Tuesday, alleging they market and sell them to minors.
The lawsuit primarily targets online retailers, but the city is still going after brick-and-mortar businesses who officials say are breaking the law as well. Small vape shops are feeling the effects.
"Anybody opening a vape shop now probably wouldn’t do it in the city of Chicago," said Frank Rex, who opened Let's All Vape in Old Town about five years ago.
Rex says business is hanging in there, but the city hasn’t made it easy.
"It’s effected the business quite a bit; we’ve lost a lot of customers because of the nicotine tax and the age requirements, all vape shops have," Rex said.
Rex says his bottom line took a hit two years ago, when the city raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products including e-cigs from 18 to 21.
"The customers themselves, it doesn’t stop them, because like I said they go online to buy or they find other avenues and its less business for me and less revenue for the city," Rex said.
This comes three months after a similar suit was filed in November, and that had an impact on the industry.
"As a result of that suit three of those companies have already stopped selling nicotine products, and a fourth as left the Chicago market entirely," corporation counsel Ed Siskel said.
The city conducts several sting operations both locally and online to crack down on illegal sales to minors. Rex says he’s had three in the past year and a half alone, and cards just about everyone who walks through the door.
"Our goal is to protect youth and to disrupt the irresponsible tobacco industry practices through strong enforcement," BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno said.
Mayor Emanuel says he's working with Governor Pritzker to raise the minimum age to 21 statewide, and he's confident they can get that done this year.