The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Thursday it has sent warning letters to dozens of retailers that sell fruit and candy-flavored disposable e-cigarettes, including the current best-selling brand, Elf Bar.
It's the latest attempt by regulators to crack down on the illegal disposable vapes that have hit American stores in recent years.
Last month, the FDA issued orders allowing customs officials to seize shipments of Elf Bar, esco bar and two other brands in US ports. Neither product has received FDA clearance and comes in flavors like cotton candy, which regulators say may appeal to teenagers.
In the latest action, the FDA said it issued warnings to 189 convenience stores, vape shops and other retailers.
“We are not going to stand by while bad actors profit from the sale of illegal products that are addictive to our nation's youth,” Brian King, director of the FDA's tobacco center, said in an interview. "Today's action is just part of our long-standing efforts to address those products, particularly flavored disposables."
The FDA has tried for years to regulate the multi-billion dollar vaping industry but separate data released Thursday by government researchers shows that unauthorized e-cigarettes continue to be released.
Analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of e-cigarette brands in the US increased from 184 at the beginning of 2020 to 269 at the end of 2022.
The increase coincided with the growing popularity of disposable e-cigarettes. The analysis showed that the share of disposables in vaping sales more than doubled, from 24.7% at the beginning of 2020 to almost 52% at the end of last year.
CDC researchers and a nonprofit organization, the Truth Initiative, analyzed data from IRI, which collects sales records from convenience stores, gas stations and other retailers.
Elf Bar was the best-selling disposable cigarette in the US and the third best-selling e-cigarette late last year. Only Reynolds American's Vuse and Juul reusable e-cigarettes had higher sales.
The FDA and CDC also cited Elf Bar in a separate report on thousands of calls to US poison centers related to e-cigarettes, mostly involving children under 5 years of age.
When accidentally ingested, liquid nicotine can cause fits, convulsions, vomiting, and brain damage. Reports of nicotine poisoning have risen and fallen over the past decade, but government scientists said calls rose more than 30% between last spring and March of this year.
Brand information was not reported in 95% of cases, but when it was reported, Elf Bar was the most frequently mentioned product.
Despite the missing data, the FDA's King called the large number of reports involving Elf Bar a "canary in the coal mine."
“What we want to do is nip things in the bud before they are allowed to spread further,” King said.
Made by a Chinese company, iMiracle Shenzhen, Elf Bar is part of a wave of e-cigarette imitations that have followed the path paved by Puff Bar, a popular disposable brand that briefly racked up hundreds of millions in sales after regulators cracked crackdown on older vaping products like Juul.
In early 2020, the FDA restricted flavors in cartridge-based reusable e-cigarettes like Juul to just menthol and tobacco, which are more popular with adults. But the taste restriction did not apply to disposable electronic cigarettes which are discarded after use.
After the FDA tried force Puff Bar to withdraw from the market , the company relaunched and said it was now using lab-made nicotine, which was not under the original FDA oversight of tobacco-derived nicotine. Most disposable manufacturers followed the same playbook.
The congress closed the lagoon last year. Under the law, companies were supposed to pull their vaporizers off the market and file applications with the FDA, but new products keep coming out.