Federal authorities are seizing more unlicensed e-cigarette shipments at U.S. ports, but thousands of new flavored products continue to flow into the country from China, according to government and industry data reviewed by The Associated Press. ing.
The numbers highlight the chaotic state of America’s $7 billion e-cigarette market, with the distribution of fruit-flavored disposable e-cigarettes used by one in 10 U.S. teens and young adults. This raises questions about how the US government can stop this.
More than 11,500 unique e-cigarette products are sold in U.S. stores, a 27% increase from 9,000 products in June, according to closely kept industry data from analytics firm Circana.
“When the FDA knocks down a product, manufacturers get away with it and kids get away with it,” said Bonnie Halpern Fell, a psychologist at Stanford University who is developing anti-vaping educational materials. Shah says. “It’s too easy to just make a few changes to the product and reboot.”
Halpern-Felscher said she is “constantly” updating her curriculum to keep up with new e-cigarette brands and trends.
Almost all of the new products are disposable e-cigarettes, according to sales data collected from stores such as gas stations and convenience stores. These products earned him $3.2 billion in revenue in the first 11 months of this year.
The FDA has approved several types of e-cigarettes for adult smokers and is currently reviewing products from several major companies, including Juul. Regulatory authorities consider almost all other e-cigarettes to be illegal.
“Those who commit illegal activities do not advertise their crimes, and neither do those who seek to import illegal tobacco products into the United States,” FDA Tobacco Director Brian King said in a written response to questions from The Associated Press. ” he said. “FDA and our federal partners are using tools like import alerts to interdict these illegal tobacco products at the border and countless other illegal tobacco products.”
E-cigarette sales continue to increase despite record numbers of products being seized.
According to the FDA’s database, the agency last month “denied access” to 148 containers or pallets of “tobacco” merchandise, made up almost entirely of e-cigarette products from China. Rejected imports are usually destroyed.
By the end of November, U.S. authorities had rejected 374 similar shipments this year, more than double the 118 they rejected in 2022.
This year’s items included $400,000 worth of Escobar’s, a disposable brand that was placed on the import ban list in May. Because it takes time to finalize a denial, the data posted by authorities is often preliminary.
However, recent history shows how easily companies can circumvent import bans.
In July 2022, the FDA banned the sale of dozens of e-cigarettes from Chinese manufacturer Fume, including pineapple ice and Blue Laz flavors.
Although Hume’s sales declined after the ban, the company launched a number of new products and recorded sales of $42 million in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2023, according to the data. Approximately 98 percent of sales came from products not on the FDA’s “red list” of detainable products.
Industry transportation strategies also challenge the usefulness of import restrictions.
In July, FDA and customs authorities intercepted $18 million worth of illegal e-cigarettes, including those from major brand Elf Bar. However, the shipments were incorrectly labeled as shoes, toys and other items rather than e-cigarettes, requiring authorities to open more than 20 individual containers to determine their contents.
Circana (formerly IRI) restricts access to the data it sells to companies and researchers. Someone who is not authorized to share granted access to her AP on condition of anonymity.
The FDA has no plans to update its import list, but said it is “closely monitoring” instances in which companies attempt to evade detection.
“FDA has a variety of tools at its disposal to counter these tactics,” said FDA’s King.
The agency has limited authority to punish foreign companies. Instead, regulators have sent hundreds of warning letters to U.S. stores selling their products, but they are not legally binding.
The FDA is trying to work with customs officials, but it has struggled to complete a years-long review of applications submitted by manufacturers wanting to sell their products to adults.
Some tobacco-flavored products currently approved by the FDA are highly unpopular. According to Circana, the two companies have combined sales of just $174 million, representing 2.4% of this year’s e-cigarette market.
“Nobody wants it,” says Mark Cyrus, owner of Michigan’s 906 Vapor Shop. “If people wanted it, it would be on the shelves, but it’s not.”
Public health groups, deeply dissatisfied with the pace of FDA reviews, successfully sued the FDA to speed up the process. The agency had aimed to complete all major backlog applications this year, but recently announced that the process would continue into next year.
This delay raises questions about the viability of the current regulatory framework for e-cigarettes.
“The whole environment has changed, and yet the FDA is trying to operate in an old model,” said Scott Ballin, a health policy consultant who previously worked at the American Heart Association. “The company has a long product line that they have to review one by one, and now they’re in a huge hole.”
One alternative approach is to make decisions about the entire class of e-cigarettes rather than individual products.
The idea initially came from small e-cigarette manufacturers that didn’t have the funds to conduct the large-scale studies typical of FDA filings. Public health advocates concerned about the continued use of e-cigarettes by minors agree.
Stanford University’s Halpern Felsher is among those calling on the FDA to ban all flavored disposable e-cigarettes, which are used by most of the 2 million underage teens who vape. be.
“If we continue on the path we’re on, we’ll just continue to create a new generation of young people addicted to nicotine,” she said.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Education Media Group. AP is solely responsible for all content.