A US judge has found that companies selling e-cigarettes to kids are engaging in sales of “child pornography” that is “a direct violation of the law”.
The judge, from the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, made the finding in a ruling on Thursday.
He cited two e-cigarette brands that have been selling to teenagers since at least December of last year.
“They are selling to kids the nicotine in e-liquid and it is clear to the court that these products are child pornography,” the judge wrote in the ruling.
The brands include Vape Free, which was formed in October 2015 by former employees of e-cig company Vapex.
“This is a direct violation, and the defendants are guilty of a felony,” Judge Steven Miller said in a statement.
“These brands are engaged in conduct that is a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the public.
They have engaged in a clear violation of a federal law.”
He added that the products are “likely to cause harm to minors” and that “the sale and distribution of these products would encourage them to engage in these acts”.
He also found that VapeFree has failed to comply with several federal and state laws.
He said that in addition to selling the products to children, the companies are also selling to minors through “a social media website, through direct mail and through other means”.
“The defendant is engaged in sales to minors and has engaged in some of the sales to these minors,” the ruling said.
“The defendants have engaged, and continue to engage, in sales that are likely to cause serious injury to minors.”
Judge Miller also said that the defendants have “substantially contributed” to the rise in teen smoking by selling to them.
“Their sale of these devices to minors, through their social media platforms, and through their direct mail distribution, are substantial and pervasive.”
He said Vapefree had not taken any steps to address the harms it caused by the products and “continue to make representations that they are not responsible for those sales.”
The judge noted that the companies have been sued by minors in federal court.
“It is for these reasons that the Court finds that it is appropriate to take this action in the District Court,” he wrote.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it was reviewing the ruling and that it would issue a statement soon.
The ruling comes as the US government moves to regulate the sale of e, vapor products in a bid to combat the rising tide of smoking among teens.
Health officials have said they want to see a regulatory framework in place to regulate products like e-cigs and vape pens that contain nicotine, and to ensure that companies do not distribute or advertise them to minors.
In the past, federal and local authorities have banned the sale and possession of vape pens and other electronic devices in public places, including parks, stadiums and theaters.
Last week, a federal judge ruled that a Florida man who had been selling vape pens to minors in the state’s parks was guilty of possession of child pornography.
E-cigarettes are also not banned in Florida, but their use has been restricted by the state legislature.
At the same time, some states are starting to move to make vaping devices illegal for sale to minors under new laws.
As of August, 23 states and the District of Columbia had passed laws restricting vaping to minors or banned it altogether.