President Joe Biden's Food and Drug Administration in late May minced no words in a warning to tobacco retailers: Stop selling illegal flavored Chinese vapes, or we will come down on you with the full weight of the law. It seems to have given a pass to a retailer in its own backyard.
The FDA announced just a few weeks ago, on May 31, that it was in the midst of a "retailer inspection blitz" to crack down on the sale of outlawed disposable e-cigarettes such as the Elfbar, a flavored vape manufactured in China by a subsidiary of Shenzhen IMiracle Technology. The agency claims that on May 24 it inspected the White Oak Convenience Store, which is located just 250 yards away from the FDA's headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., and observed no violations, including but not limited to selling outlawed Chinese vapes.
But the same convenience store on Thursday sold an outlawed strawberry banana-flavored Elfbar BC5000 to a Washington Free Beacon reporter, raising serious questions about the FDA's "enforcement strategy" for the illicit Chinese products.
"This clearly shows evidence that the FDA does not have an enforcement strategy," said Rich Marianos, a former assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. "Even in their own backyard, they are asleep at the wheel."
The sale of illegal Chinese vapes within walking distance of the FDA's headquarters comes as the agency has moved aggressively to outlaw the sale of American-made vapes such as Juul. Elfbars and other Chinese-manufactured vapes are often packed with more potent doses of nicotine than their American counterparts and are marketed to teens with fruity flavors such as Sakura Grape and Pineapple Coconut Ice. Furthermore, due to the illicit nature of Chinese vapes, authorities such as FDA commissioner Robert Califf say they've grown increasingly concerned the products could be laced with fentanyl.
Ironically, the Chinese Communist Party has done more to ban the sale of flavored disposable vapes manufactured within China's borders than the FDA has done within U.S. borders. Chinese authorities in October outlawed the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes, though they still allow for the manufacture and export of such products.
The Elfbar purchased by the Free Beacon on Thursday was manufactured in China specifically for sale in the United States, according to a disclosure on the product's box.
The Biden administration says going after retailers is the centerpiece of its strategy against the Chinese products.
"I've been crystal clear that FDA will not stand by while retailers and distributors seek to profit off illegally selling products that are well-known to appeal to youth," said Brian King, the director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products. "Retailers and distributors play a key role in keeping unauthorized tobacco products off the shelves, and if they fail to do so, we're committed to taking appropriate action."
This is not the first time the White Oak Convenience Store has been exposed for selling outlawed Chinese disposable vapes. The Daily Mail reported in March that the store was selling illegal vapes. Many of the same outlawed products were available for sale within plain sight behind the cashier counter when the Free Beacon visited on Thursday.
It is unclear how the FDA missed the vapes during its inspection. The FDA did not return a request for comment.
Jim Carroll, who was the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under former president Donald Trump, says that the FDA's failure to catch a retailer located right next to its headquarters is "egregious."
"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," Carroll said. "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."
Carroll also said the action against American manufacturers of vapes has been much more stringent.
"The administration took efforts against products such as Juul that was swift, clear, and decisive," he said. "We're not seeing that now on products on the flavored disposable vaping pens coming from China. Why have we not seen action taken? I don't know, and it worries me."