E-cigarette manufacturers have been criticized before over targeting youth and young adults in its advertising and promotions – but now, one manufacturer has been taken to court because of the practice. The complaint is not about marketing practices, however – it is about trademark infringement.

Chi-Town Vapers is not the first such company to entice young people with specially flavored e-liquids designed to taste like fruit or candy. However, it went too far when it started marketing products called “Dbl Mint” and “Joosy Fruit.” Those names – along with the packaging – were just a little too close to the real products that have been made and sold by Wrigley Gum for decades.

According to the lawsuit that was filed in U.S. District court last week, Chi-Town Vapers is attempting to profit from the image that Wrigley has been cultivating for over a century. Plaintiffs allege that Chi-Town’s use of the names and attempts to imitate flavors of its venerable products is “likely to cause confusion, harm the public, and damage Wrigley’s valuable rights.”

The familiar “double arrow” has been Wrigley’s trademark since at least 1915, and is protected under both common law and federal registration. The Chi-Town Vapers packaging employs not only the double arrow logo, but also the original colors of Wrigley’s product packaging. It isn’t the first time. Three years ago, Wrigley’s sent a cease and desist letter to Chi-Town Vapers, explaining their rights to the trademark and demanding that they discontinue e-liquids imitating their products. While Chi-Town did not respond, they did remove images of the infringing products from the company website.

Within a year, Chi-Town was at it again, targeting youth with an e-liquid product they called “Dbl Mint” – the packaging of which bears a strong resemblance to that of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum. Then, this past January the company came out with its “Joosey-Fruit” vape product – in a bright yellow package with red lettering, just like the Wrigley product.

The complaint alleges that Chi-Town Vapers is engaging in actions that are “willful, deliberate, intentional and in bad faith.” Wrigley claims that its brand has been “greatly and irreparably damaged” as a result. The plaintiffs are asking the court for an injunction against the sale of “confusingly similar” products resembling their own and a recall of Chi-Town’s offending products in addition to damages.

The fact that Chi-Town Vapers is infringing on Wrigley’s trademark may be less important than the way it is targeting and catering to young people much the way Big Tobacco did. Nonetheless, the Wrigley lawsuit is a good example of how a private industry can step in and do what regulators fail to do – even if it is for reasons of its own.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.