FDA-CBP Joint Operation Seizes $18 Million Worth of Illegal E-Cigarettes, Targets Brands Popular Among Youth

In a significant joint effort, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have successfully seized over $18 million worth of unauthorized e-cigarette products, marking a crucial step in the ongoing battle against the illegal tobacco trade. The operation, conducted over three days, resulted in the examination of 41 shipments at Los Angeles International Airport, uncovering approximately 1.4 million units of violative e-cigarette products.

The seized products included popular youth-centric brands like Elf Bar, identified as the most commonly used brand among youth e-cigarette users according to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey. This joint operation highlights the commitment of federal agencies to curbing the influx of unauthorized and youth-appealing tobacco products into the United States.

FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., emphasized the agency’s determination, stating, “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 meticulous planning and execution of the operation involved months of work, including a review of shipping invoices, identification of potentially violative shipments, and other investigative efforts. The examination took place at a cargo examination site, revealing a disturbing trend: unauthorized e-cigarettes intentionally mis-declared as items such as toys or shoes, with incorrect values listed in an attempt to evade duties and detection.

Troy A. Miller, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner for CBP, highlighted the importance of disrupting the supply chains of illegal goods, stating, “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.”

The seized e-cigarettes, all originating from China, included various brands of illegal flavored disposable e-cigarette products. Disposable e-cigarettes, as per the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, are the most commonly used type among U.S. youth, with flavored options being particularly popular. The flavors identified in the seized products included fruit, candy, desserts, mint, and menthol.

Aside from Elf Bar, other confiscated brands included EB Create products, Lost Mary, Funky Republic, RELX Pod, and IPLAY Max, among others. Some of these unauthorized e-cigarettes were deliberately mis-declared to customs, posing a challenge to detection efforts.

Brian King, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, issued a stern warning to those involved in the illegal trade, stating, “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.”

This operation aligns with the FDA’s comprehensive approach to tobacco product compliance and enforcement, targeting various elements in the supply chain, including manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers. The FDA has been proactive in addressing the importation of illegal e-cigarettes by placing certain firms on an FDA import alert red list. This list enables the FDA to detain products without a full inspection at the time of entry, demonstrating a strategic approach to tackling the issue.

To date, the FDA has authorized 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products and devices for lawful sale in the United States. The agency has taken numerous compliance and enforcement actions against firms involved in the distribution and sale of unauthorized new tobacco products, including issuing warning letters, filing civil money penalty complaints, and seeking permanent injunctions.

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Marc Sanchez

Marc Sanchez

Marc is dedicated to helping his clients navigate the complex world of FDA and USDA legislation. He represents FDA-regulated companies in the food, dietary supplement, beverage, cosmetic, medical device, and drug industries.

Marc is the author of two textbooks and a lecturer at Northeastern University. He is a member of the Washington State Bar Association and the D.C. Bar Association.

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