FDA Partners With DOJ, Other Agencies to Combat Illegal Sale of E-Cigarettes

‘Enforcement against illegal e-cigarettes is a multi-pronged issue that necessitates a multi-pronged response,’ the FDA’s Brian King said.
FDA Partners With DOJ, Other Agencies to Combat Illegal Sale of E-Cigarettes
E-cigarettes are displayed in San Francisco, California, on May 5, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Aldgra Fredly
6/11/2024
Updated:
6/11/2024
0:00

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Monday that it will partner with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat the illegal sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in the United States.

The FDA and DOJ, along with other partner agencies, will create a federal multi-agency task force to tackle the issue, according to a statement on June 10.

Other agencies include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Federal Trade Commission.

They pledged to use “all available criminal and civil tools” against the illegal distribution of e-cigarettes, which the FDA said has contributed to nicotine addiction among youth in the United States.

“Unauthorized e-cigarettes and vaping products continue to jeopardize the health of Americans—particularly children and adolescents—across the country,” Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin Mizer said.

“This interagency Task Force is dedicated to protecting Americans by combatting the unlawful sale and distribution of these products. And the establishment of this Task Force makes clear that vigorous enforcement of the tobacco laws is a government-wide priority.”

This federal task force will focus on the investigation and prosecution of “new criminal, civil, seizure and forfeiture actions.” The FDA said that any violations would lead to “felony convictions and significant criminal fines and civil monetary penalties,” as well as seizures of illegal products.

“Enforcement against illegal e-cigarettes is a multi-pronged issue that necessitates a multi-pronged response,” Dr. Brian King, director of the FDA’s center for tobacco products, said in a statement.

Arun G. Rao, deputy assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch, said they aim to “advance aggressive and innovative solutions” to the evolving problem of illegal vaping products.

To date, the FDA has approved 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products and devices that may be lawfully sold in the United States, but illegal e-cigarettes continue to emerge in the market.
About 2.1 million youths reported using e-cigarettes last year, of which 10 percent were high school students and nearly five percent middle school students, according to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

The survey found that more than one in four of these users reported using e-cigarettes daily. The FDA has warned about the dangers of youth using e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.

“In addition to being highly addictive, nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain, which continues to develop until about age 25. Young people who use nicotine may also be at risk for addiction to other drugs,” the agency stated.

To tackle this, the FDA said it has issued more than 1,100 warning letters to several manufacturers, importers, and retailers for illegally selling and distributing unauthorized e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, praised the DOJ, FDA, and other agencies involved in the task force for their efforts in eliminating illegal tobacco products from the market.

“For too long, manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers have acted without regard for the law or public health,” he said in a press release. “The data also underscore how addicted youth are to these products.”

Concerns Over Flavored E-Cigarettes

Many of the illegal e-cigarettes sold are flavored, which appeals to young consumers. Mr. Wimmer said that nearly 90 percent of young people who use e-cigarettes reported using flavored products, such as menthol and mixed-berry.

“Ongoing and coordinated enforcement is necessary to remove the illegal and addictive tobacco products from the market,” he added.

In February, Reps. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) wrote to FDA chief Robert Califf, demanding information about what action the FDA the taking to tackle the importation of illicit vape products from China.

“While we appreciate the recent joint federal operation resulting in the seizure of more than 1.4 million units of illegal e-cigarettes in December 2023, much more needs to be done,” the lawmakers stated.

They claimed that illegal vaping products imported from China account for “more than half of all vaping products sold in the United States and contribute significantly to underage vaping rates.”

The lawmakers cited data from the FDA indicating that more than one in four young people in the United States reported using e-cigarettes daily and over a third reported using e-cigarettes at least 20 days a month.

A significant number of them preferred flavored e-cigarettes, with 56 percent of users reporting the use of Elf Bar, a popular youth-appealing e-cigarette brand manufactured and illegally imported from China.