FDA Cracks Down on E-cigarettes Shaped Like SpongeBob, But Is It Enough?

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on the worrying number of e-cigarettes that target children. Just last month, the FDA issued 15 warning letters to manufacturers that were distributing and/or selling unauthorized e-cigarette products that ‘look like youth-appealing characters.’1U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “FDA Warns Companies to Stop Selling Youth-Appealing E-Cigarettes,” Aug. 23, 2023. Some of the e-cigarettes under scrutiny are shaped like SpongeBob Squarepants, Kirby, Mario, and more recognizable cartoon characters. 

“The design of these products is a shamelessly egregious attempt to target kids,” said Brian King, Ph.D., M.P.H, director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. He went on to say that adults who want to transition from smoking to vaping do not need themed e-cigarettes. 

In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that over 2.5 million U.S. middle and high school students use e-cigarettes2U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “A study released today from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” Oct. 7, 2022.. More than one in four of the young people surveyed use e-cigarettes daily. Despite the FDA’s attempts to hold the floodgates, youth vaping has reached epidemic proportions. 

Some argue that the FDA’s warning letters are a good step forward, but ultimately ineffective. After all, we have seen the same news headlines time and time again. In November of 2022, the FDA issued warning letters to five firms for ‘unauthorized marketing’3U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Unauthorized E-cigarettes that Appeal to Youth,” Nov. 16, 2022. of 15 different e-cigarette products. 

One of the manufacturers named in the 2022 crackdown is Shenzhen Fumot Technology Co. Ltd., which trades as R and M Vapes. The FDA warned R and M vapes to stop distributing Squid Bar 2500, 2-in-1 Disposable Pod Device, and Dazzle 5000. These disposable e-cigarettes feature characters from Squid Game, Minions, and The Simpsons. A quick Google search shows that these disposables are still online and available for purchase. We have to wonder whether this manufacturer has any consequences.

In 2021, Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products at the time, said “E-cigarettes should never be marketed to, sold to or used by kids, and it’s critical that we continue to take aggressive steps to address the youth use of these products.”4U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “FDA In Brief: FDA Requires Four E-Cigarette Brands to Provide Critical Information on Social Media Practices,” Mar. 17, 2021. Critics might argue that we are still waiting for the FDA to take an ‘aggressive’, proactive approach to the growing epidemic of youth vaping. 

A few years ago, the FDA enforced more drastic measures around e-cigarettes. In early 2020, the FDA banned all e-cigarette flavors other than menthol and tobacco5FDA finalizes enforcement policy on unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes that appeal to children, including fruit and mint,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 02 Jan. 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-finalizes-enforcement-policy-unauthorized-flavored-cartridge-based-e-cigarettes-appeal-children. This decision, which was widely contested at the time, was designed to deter young people from using e-cigarettes. It banned eye-catching, recognizable flavors like Strawberry Cheesecake, Candy Floss, Coca-Cola, and many more. 

However, the ban on flavored e-liquids does not cover disposable e-cigarettes, which are the most commonly used type of device among young people6U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “A study released today from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 2.55 million U.S. middle and high school students reported current (past 30-day) e-cigarette use in 2022,” Oct. 7, 2022.. In recent years, we have seen the FDA try and fail to stop young people from vaping. These attempts never hit the mark completely, and leave a lot of wiggle room for curious youths who want to experiment with e-cigarettes. 

With the number of young people rising year on year, we are curious to see whether the FDA will enforce stricter controls to deter young vapers.


Viki Howlett
Viki Howlett
Viki Howlett, a skilled writer with a decade of vaping experience, enriches our website with engaging, well-researched articles, offering readers valuable insights and trustworthy reviews on vaping products and trends.

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