Enforcing Washington's vape laws: Efforts to keep illegal, counterfeit products off the market

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Walk into South Sound Vapor Lounge and a “no minors” sign is one of the first things you’ll see.

People younger than 18 can't set foot inside the store and every customer is asked for ID.

“We're very over the top making sure everything is safe, secure, and not in the hands of children,”  owner Margo Pierini said.

Pierini's owned the Olympia shop for six years. She also has a location in Lacey.

She stands behind her products and said they've passed every state, county and city inspection.

However, she warns customers that not all vape products are created the same.

"I would be very, very careful ordering online,” Pierini said. “You don't know where that product ultimately started out its life and, if you're not buying from a reputable vendor, you could be ending up with counterfeit product."

Capt. Lisa Reinke works for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Her department busts businesses that operate without licenses and illegally sell CBD products and counterfeit juices. They're also on the hunt for stores that sell to minors.

"This was purchased by an underage investigative aid that works for us that was either 16 or 17 years of age,” Reinke said.

They will enforce the Washington State Board of Health’s ban on flavored vaping liquids, too.

“We will be visiting stores to make sure that product is pulled and we'll give them some options of what to do with that product,” Reinke said.

The state has given out about 4,300 vapor licenses.
Reinke said local shops tend to follow the rules. Over the last eight months, her department has done 711 compliance checks. A total of 50 stores were cited and fined.

"It was about almost 93 percent compliance,” Reinke said.

Reinke said the biggest beast she battles is online sales, which are almost impossible to regulate.

“We are seeing, I would say, hundreds of locations that do not have a Washington license selling to anyone, probably,” Reinke said. "I think a cease-and-desist letter may not mean that much to someone when they're in China."

She's also caught people selling products through Facebook, OfferUp and Craigslist.

"They're just a private person, they don't have a license, and they obtained some product they want to sell and they'll meet you on a city street in Seattle and they'll have it in a backpack and sell it to you,” she said. "You don't know where they got that product, you don't know what's in that product,. I'd be very concerned."

Stricter state regulations, such as a flavor ban, may send more people to the black market.

At Pierini's shop, there is only one unflavored product on store shelves. Two people buy it.

She hopes she can stay in business and said vape customers need to pay attention to where they buy their products.

"Just be careful. Ask questions. Ask where they purchase their products from. We will happily show everyone our invoices,; we'll show where every single product came from,” Pierini said.

The current legal age to buy vapor products is 18. Starting Jan. 1, the legal age rises to 21.

While the investigation into nationwide illnesses and deaths is ongoing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health recommend people refrain from using e-cigarettes or vaping.

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