The Biden administration is doing little to stem the tide of Chinese vapes flooding the American market.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized just 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products for lawful sale in the United States. But the actual number of vaping devices available for purchase in the country has nearly tripled to over 9,000 since 2020, according to sales data obtained by the Associated Press. Almost all of the illegal devices are coming from China.
Illegal Chinese vapes are often marketed to teenagers with fruity flavors, and contain much more nicotine than American-made e-cigarettes. FDA commissioner Robert Califf testified before Congress in March that he’s grown increasingly concerned illicit Chinese vapes could be laced with fentanyl. The FDA claimed in May it was in the midst of a "retailer inspection blitz" to crack down on the sale of Chinese vapes, but experts say the industry knows the agency is incapable of enforcing the law.
"The FDA moves at a ponderous pace and the industry knows that and exploits it," Dr. Robert Jackler of Stanford University told the Associated Press. "Time and again, the vaping industry has innovated around efforts to remove its youth-appealing products from the market."
A convenience store located just 250 yards away from the FDA’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., still sells illicit Chinese vapes amid the agency’s supposed crackdown. The store sold an outlawed strawberry banana-flavored Elfbar BC5000 to a Washington Free Beacon reporter on June 15, just weeks after the FDA claimed it inspected the store and observed no tobacco-related violations.
The Elfbar purchased by the Free Beacon contained a disclosure stating the product was manufactured in China specifically for sale in the United States. Ironically, that same product cannot be purchased in China. Chinese authorities in October outlawed the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes, though they still allow such products to be manufactured and exported to other countries.
Following the Free Beacon report, the FDA issued a press release saying it issued warning letters to 189 retailers warning them to stop selling Elfbars. The convenience store next door to the FDA was notably absent from the list.
"The fact that illegal, disposable, Chinese vapes in kid-friendly flavors are being sold in the FDA's own backyard is nothing short of egregious," said Jim Carroll, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under former president Donald Trump. "The FDA and Biden administration cannot waste any more time—they must make this a top priority and get illegal Chinese disposable vape products off of store shelves."