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FDA Seizes 1.4 Million E-Cigarettes at Airport

In a recent press release1U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ‘Joint Federal Operation Results in Seizure of More Than $18 Million in Illegal E-Cigarettes,’ U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Dec. 14, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/joint-federal-operation-results-seizure-more-18-million-illegal-e-cigarettes, the FDA announced the seizure of around 1.4 million e-cigarettes. The sting, which took place over three days in July, confiscated goods that amounted to more than $1.8 million. The FDA collaborated with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at Los Angeles International Airport to target manufacturers importing illegal vapes into the country.

To evade customs, the goods were falsely declared as toys or shoes. This is a common tactic among e-cigarette manufacturers, something that Brian King, Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, is adamantly opposed to. Speaking on the issue of vape manufacturers who do not want to play by the FDA’s rules, Brian said “Federal agencies are on to their antics and will not hesitate to take action.”

The 41 shipments were all from China and included top vape names such as Elf Bar, RELX Pod, Funky Republic, and others. Elf Bar is the most popular e-cigarette brand among young people2U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ‘Results from the Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS),’ U.S. Food and Drug Administration, [Online]. Available: https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/youth-and-tobacco/results-annual-national-youth-tobacco-survey in the U.S., with 56.7% of those surveyed preferring it. Given the popularity of Elf Bar products, it is no surprise that this vape titan has been at the center of several controversies. 

Yolonda C. Richardson, President and CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids3Y. C. Richardson, ‘U.S. Government’s Seizure of Illegal E-Cigarettes Is Significant Step to Protect Kids,’ Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Dec. 14, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/press-releases/2023_12_14_us-governments-seizure-of-illegal-e-cigarettes-is-significant-step-to-protect-kids, applauds the decision to confiscate Elf Bar products. The recent seizure “is the strongest enforcement action the government has taken to clear the market of illegal flavored e-cigarettes that are addicting our kids and endangering their health,” according to Richardson.

Elf Bar was recently in the spotlight for changing its name to EBDesign to sidestep the FDA’s ban. When we covered this story, we questioned whether the FDA would allow such a blatant attempt at misdirection. During the sting, FDA officials found e-cigarette products labeled with Elf Bar’s new name, EB Create. 

The effectiveness of the FDA as a regulatory body has been in question for a long time. Last year, the Reagan-Udall Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on issues around the FDA, released a report that criticized the FDA’s strategies and methods. According to the report, the FDA is “reactive and overwhelmed”4Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA, ‘Operational Evaluation of FDA’s Human Foods & Tobacco Programs,’ Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA. [Online]. Available: https://reaganudall.org/programs/operational-evaluation-fdas-human-foods-tobacco-programs and “mainly provoked by outside sources.” 

In the last year, the FDA seems to have taken more effective steps to fight illegal vapes. The recent sting operation, in which the FDA-CBP team “worked for months to review shipping invoices, identify potential violative incoming shipments, and complete other investigative work” has set a new precedent.

Ultimately, the FDA has a long way to go to change the tide. The global e-cigarette market is predicted to generate a revenue of $24.6 billion in 20235Statista, ‘E-Cigarettes – Worldwide | Statista Market Forecast,’ Statista. [Online]. Available: https://www.statista.com/outlook/cmo/tobacco-products/e-cigarettes/worldwide, and $8.268 million in the U.S. alone. The FDA’s recent operation accounts for just over 21% of the estimated revenue of the entire U.S. market. Considering the sting only focused on 41 shipments at Los Angeles International Airport, we can assume that the vape black market is much larger than anyone can imagine. 


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Lexi Burgess
Lexi Burgess
I keep my ear to the ground to report on Vaping, emerging health research, and new vape legislation. When the ever-changing landscape of the vape industry isn’t on my mind, I play badminton and read old horror novels.
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