FDA, Justice Department crack down on sale of illegal e-cigarettes by forming new task force

Federal health officials are partnering with the US Department of Justice to fight the illegal sale and distribution of e-cigarettes.

The US Food and Drug Administration and Justice Department announced Monday that they are creating a task force to target the issue. The task force will include people from the US Marshals Service, US Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies to identify and target illegal sales and distribution of e-cigarettes.

“Unauthorized e-cigarettes and vaping products continue to jeopardize the health of Americans – particularly children and adolescents – across the country,” Benjamin Mizer, the acting associate attorney general with the Justice Department, said in a news release Monday.

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

While the FDA has authorized the sale of 23 specific tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products and devices to date, several unauthorized e-cigarettes have emerged illegally on the market, some of which appeal to minors.

More than 1 in 10 young adults in the United States regularly use e-cigarettes, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that about 2.1 million youth reported currently using e-cigarettes.

Under current regulations, new tobacco products must receive marketing authorization from the FDA before they can be sold; pre-existing e-cigarette products have been allowed to remain on the market, but the agency has asked manufacturers to submit applications to keep them there.

The new federal task force will hone in on several issues, “including investigating and prosecuting new criminal, civil, seizure and forfeiture actions,” according to the news release, and violations “can result in felony convictions and significant criminal fines and civil monetary penalties,” as well as the seizures of unauthorized 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 the news release. “This ‘All Government’ approach – including the creation of this new Task Force - will bring the collective resources and experience of the federal government to bear on this pressing public health issue.”

The creation of this new task force comes after the FDA has issued more than 1,100 warning letters to several distributors, manufacturers, importers and retailers for illegally selling or distributing unauthorized tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. In December, the FDA announced seizing about 1.4 million units of unauthorized e-cigarette products.

“The U.S. Marshals Service Asset Forfeiture Division stands ready to work with our Task Force partners in the seizure of unauthorized e-cigarettes from domestic distributors seeking to sell them unlawfully,” Ronald Davis, director of the US Marshals Service, said in Monday’s news release.

Meanwhile, the American Lung Association has announced that it applauds the launch of the new federal task force.

For too long, manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers have acted without regard for the law or public health. The Lung Association has urged enhanced law enforcement actions be taken to hold manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors accountable for selling illegal tobacco products and to protect the public health, especially children’s health,” Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a statement Monday. He added that youth vaping is a “serious” public health concern.

“Many of the illegal e-cigarettes currently on the market are flavored products, which attract youth,” Wimmer said in part. “The American Lung Association commends the DOJ, FDA and other agencies involved in this task force. Ongoing and coordinated enforcement is necessary to remove the illegal and addictive tobacco products from the market.”

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