A new federal task force aims to crack down on illegal e-cigarettes

Federal agencies are stepping up efforts to crack down on the sale and distribution of illegal e-cigarettes, aiming to stem the flood of products on the market that consistently circumvent government regulations.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday announced a new interagency task force that aims to “use all available criminal and civil tools against the illegal distribution and sale of e-cigarettes that are responsible for nicotine addiction among America's youth.”

FDA's partners include the Department of Justice, the US Marshals Service and the US Postal Service.

Critics have widely argued that illegal vaping products are deliberately 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 US and become available for purchase.

“Unauthorized e-cigarette and vaping products continue to endanger the health of Americans – especially children and adolescents – across the country,” Acting Attorney General Benjamin Mizer said in a statement. “And the creation of this Task Force makes it clear that strong enforcement of 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 approved the sale of just 23 e-cigarettes for adult smokers looking for alternatives to traditional cigarettes. These are the only e-cigarette products that can currently be legally marketed and sold in the United States.

Still, thousands of unauthorized products are making their way into the US, mostly from China, and the FDA is facing bipartisan pressure to do more to prevent Chinese vape products in kid-friendly flavors from reaching the market.

This includes key disposable products such as Elf Bar, which was the most popular e-cigarette among underage teens, according to last year's National Youth Tobacco Survey.

The agency is late in its role to review premarket tobacco product applications, which are necessary to legally market new tobacco products in the US. The FDA previously said it would complete its review of the applications by the end of December 2023, but missed that deadline.

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

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