FDA, DOJ Form Task Force To Investigate, Prosecute Illegal E-Cigarette Dealers

The task force will begin investigating and prosecuting the unauthorized sale of e-cigarettes, which could result in felony convictions, fines, and product confiscations.

A new federal multi-agency task force has been established to target the sale and distribution of illegal e-cigarettes, which will focus specifically on products that may be marketed to teens, as part of an ongoing effort to combat a vaping and nicotine addiction epidemic among America’s youth.

A growing body of research has been published over the past decade, which has warned about the serious harms vaping poses to all users, but especially teens and prior non-smokers, who are more likely to start vaping with flavored vape pens or other products designed to be less harsh than traditional cigarettes.

While vaping is generally considered safer than smoking, recent research has suggested that vaping causes the same DNA damage as tobacco cigarettes, and e-cigarettes have been linked to increased risks of asthma, cardiovascular disease and other serious health problems.

Following decades of drops in smoking rates among teens, the introduction of e-cigarettes has resulted in a new generation of youths that are addicted to nicotine. According to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 2.1 million teens report currently using e-cigarettes. While that is a decrease from the 2019 rate of 5.3 million, roughly 10% of high schoolers and 5% of middle schoolers still report currently vaping. And more than one in four teens said they vape on a daily basis.

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To address the teen vaping problem, federal regulators have cracked down on the marketing of vaping products in recent years, banning products that feature fruity flavors or designs that promote use among non-smokers. However, there is still a significant black market on the internet that helps to hook countless minors across the U.S. on vaping.

In response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced the formation of a new task force that aims to enforce e-cigarette regulations and restrictions on the sale of vaping to teens in the U.S. The multi-agency group will include officials from the FDA, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Federal Trade Commission.

The new task force will focus on enforcing criminal and civil tools against manufacturers and distributors of illegal vapes, especially among teens, according to the FDA. It will include the regulatory enforcement of existing, approved products, as well as the responsibility of investigating and prosecuting new unauthorized e-cigarette sales and distributions. Violations can result in felony convictions and criminal fines, as well as the seizure of unauthorized products, the agency indicates.

The move is a continuation of FDA vaping enforcement efforts in recent years. To date, the FDA has authorized the sale of only 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products. Only those products are authorized for sale in the U.S.

The agency indicates it has issued more than 1,100 warning letters to manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers for illegally selling and or distributing unauthorized vape products. Additionally, along with the DOJ, FDA officials say they have obtained injunctions against six manufacturers to stop the sale of unauthorized e-cigarette products.

“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 C. Mizer stated in the press release. “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.”

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