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HomeHealth & FitnessJoint Federal operation results in seizure of more than $18M in Illegal...

Joint Federal operation results in seizure of more than $18M in Illegal E-Cigarettes

  • Efforts Prevented 1.4 Million Units of Illegal Youth-appealing E-cigarettes From Reaching US Market

WASHINGTON, USA – The US Food and Drug Administration, in collaboration with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), announced the seizure of approximately 1.4 million units of unauthorized e-cigarette products, including brands such as Elf Bar, which according to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, is the most commonly used brand among youth e-cigarette users. The estimated retail value of the seized products totals more than $18 million. The seizures were part of a three-day joint operation, which resulted in the seizure of 41 shipments containing illegal e-cigarettes.

“The FDA is committed to continuing to stem the flow of illegal e-cigarettes into the United States,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. “Unscrupulous companies try everything they can to bring unauthorized, youth-appealing tobacco products into the country. The FDA will remain vigilant, and together with our federal partners, stop these imports before they make it into the hands of our nation’s youth.”

The FDA and CBP conducted the joint operation at a cargo examination site at Los Angeles International Airport, where the team examined incoming shipments for potentially violative items. In preparation for the three-day operation, the team worked for months to review shipping invoices, identify potentially violative incoming shipments, and complete other investigative work that led to this successful operation. Once the merchandise is forfeited to the government, it will be disposed of in accordance with the law; in the case of unauthorized new tobacco products, that generally means they will be destroyed.

“This enforcement action is a prime example of CBP’s commitment to keeping our communities safe by disrupting the importation of illegal goods into our country,” said Troy A. Miller, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner for CBP. “The rise in illicit e-commerce demands that our agencies remain vigilant in intercepting shipments that could pose serious health risks to the public, including youth, while disrupting the supply chains that bring them to our borders.” 

Upon examining shipments, all of which originated in China, the team found various brands of illegal flavoured disposable e-cigarette products. According to recently released 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) data, disposable e-cigarettes are the most commonly used e-cigarette type among US youth and nearly nine out of 10 current e-cigarette users (89.4%) used flavoured e-cigarettes, with fruit flavours being the most popular, followed by candy, desserts, or other sweets; mint; and menthol.

In addition to Elf Bar, among the seized e-cigarettes were EB Create products; earlier this year, the manufacturer of Elf Bar began marketing the product under the names “EB Design” and “EB Create.” Other seized brands included Lost Mary, Funky Republic, RELX Pod and IPLAY Max, among others. In an attempt to evade duties and detection, many of these unauthorized e-cigarettes were intentionally mis-declared as various items such as toys or shoes and listed with incorrect values.

“Those shamelessly attempting to smuggle illegal e-cigarettes, particularly those that appeal to youth, into this country should take heed of today’s announcement,” said Brian King, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “Federal agencies are on to their antics and will not hesitate to take action. The significant value of these seized products is also a sobering reminder to these bad actors that their time and money would be better spent complying with the law.”

The FDA uses a comprehensive approach to tobacco product compliance and enforcement, taking action against those in the supply chain that violate the law, including manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers, such as the targeted operations described in today’s announcement. The FDA also regularly addresses the importation of illegal e-cigarettes by placing certain firms on an FDA import alert red list, which allows the FDA to detain products without conducting a full inspection at the time of entry. For example, in May, the FDA placed certain firms associated with unauthorized youth-appealing e-cigarettes on a red list, including firms associated with the Elf Bar brands.

The FDA has authorized 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products and devices that may be lawfully sold in the United States. The distribution and/or sale of unauthorized new tobacco products is subject to compliance and enforcement action. As of December 2023, the FDA has issued over 650 warning letters to firms for manufacturing, selling and/or distributing new tobacco products that lacked marketing authorization from the FDA, including flavored disposable e-cigarettes and brands popular among youth. The FDA has also filed civil money penalty complaints against 38 e-cigarette manufacturers and 67 retailers, and seven complaints for permanent injunctions against firms marketing illegal e-cigarettes.

The FDA will continue to take appropriate action against those manufacturing, distributing, importing and/or selling unauthorized e-cigarette products, especially those most appealing to youth.

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