New federal task force aims to crack down on illicit e-cigarettes

Federal agencies are ramping up efforts to crack down on the sale and distribution of illicit electronic cigarettes, intent on stemming the flood of products on the market that continuously skirt government regulation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Monday a new task force of agencies aimed at bringing “all available criminal and civil tools to bear against the illegal distribution and sale of e-cigarettes responsible for nicotine addiction among American youth.”

The FDA’s partners include the Department of Justice, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Postal Service.

Critics have widely argued that illicit vaping products are purposely designed to appeal to children and young adults. Despite the FDA issuing a ban on most fruit and mint-flavored e-cigarettes, products continue to flow into the U.S. and become available for purchase.

“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 Mizer said in a statement. “And the establishment of this Task Force makes clear that vigorous enforcement of the tobacco laws is a government-wide priority.”

The task force will focus on several topics, including investigating and prosecuting new criminal, civil, seizure and forfeiture actions, the agencies said.

The FDA has authorized the sale of only 23 e-cigarettes for adult smokers looking for alternatives to traditional cigarettes. These are the only e-cigarette products that currently may be lawfully marketed and sold in the United States.

Still, thousands of unauthorized products find their way into the U.S., primarily from China, and the FDA is facing bipartisan pressure to do more to stop Chinese vape products in kid-friendly flavors from entering the market.

They include major disposable products such as Elf Bar, which was the most popular e-cigarette among underage teens last year, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

The agency is overdue in its task of reviewing premarket tobacco product applications, which are required for new tobacco products to be legally marketed in the U.S. The FDA previously said it would finish reviewing applications by the end of 2023 but missed that deadline.

The announcement comes two days before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focusing on the lack of government enforcement action against unauthorized e-cigarettes.

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