Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office on Wednesday demanded that a large fireworks retailer with stores in New Hampshire stop mailing advertisements to customers here, alleging that the solicitations from Phantom Fireworks violate consumer protection law.
“These advertisements are plainly intended as offers to sell Massachusetts residents fireworks for use within the Commonwealth,” Healey’s consumer protection chief, Max Weinstein, wrote in a cease and desist letter to Ohio-based Phantom.
The letter cited one mailing from Phantom encouraging recipients to celebrate Independence Day “in backyards across America,” and highlighting its stores’ proximity to Boston and Springfield.
The missive from Healey’s office comes as public officials in Massachusetts and around the country are grappling with a huge increase in complaints about fireworks lighting up neighborhood skies. Fireworks sellers, meanwhile, report that sales have increased dramatically this year.
“Phantom Fireworks knows its products are illegal in Massachusetts, yet we are hearing that residents are getting their advertisements in the mail,” Healey said in a statement. “We sent a cease and desist to stop this intentional marketing scheme and prevent more of these unsafe products from being brought into our neighborhoods.”
Healey’s office said the letter only covers mailings, but that it would look into other advertisements — including billboards promoting products that are illegal in Massachusetts.
In an interview, Phantom Fireworks chief executive Bruce Zoldan said his company would review Healey’s reasoning and adjust its marketing strategy if necessary. He noted that his advertisements contain a notice that people should use fireworks in compliance with their local laws, and that they specifically note that fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts.
“We will check, and if it’s determined that we shouldn’t send fliers or catalogs, we won’t send fliers or catalogs,” he said. “We always follow the law.”
He said many customers from Massachusetts come to his stores to buy products that they intend to use legally in New Hampshire or elsewhere. He believes Massachusetts should liberalize its strict fireworks laws, but said that the state should focus its enforcement on people who are lighting off illegal displays, rather than the stores that sell products legally in other states.
“If a Massachusetts customer says, ‘I’m coming to buy your fireworks, I’m going to my aunt’s house in New Hampshire,' I’m not allowed to advertise to that customer who comes every year and uses it properly?” Zoldan said.
Fireworks have become a major issue in Massachusetts, especially in Greater Boston, where public officials say their use has been off the charts. Though pyrotechnics tend to be more common around the Fourth of July, people have been igniting them regularly at night for weeks — in a year where there will be no major municipal displays because of COVID-19.
There are many theories about what’s driving the increase. Some believe they are linked to the recent protests for racial justice, while others believe they are just a release for frustrated people who have been cooped up at home during the pandemic and have some disposable income to spend.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh has formed a task force to study the issue, which he and other city officials say is creating distress for some people.
“People lose sleep, babies get woken up, some people with [post-traumatic stress disorder] experience real harms, pets are terrified, and they’re fire hazards,” Walsh said in a recent statement.
Boston Police said last week that they had fielded 7,844 fireworks calls through late June, compared to 189 calls in June of 2019.
Gal Tziperman Lotan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.