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Finish the job — get illegal disposable vapes off shelves

Sep 02, 2023

Over the past few years, schools around the nation have been infiltrated by an insidious villain that’s not only distracting our youth but cursing them with a lifelong addiction. Unfortunately, Palm Beach County is no different. Our educators and principals are constantly working to keep students in school focused, and our district staff has started researching vape smoke sensors to install in our school bathrooms. The issue is so pervasive that even in elementary schools, we battle vaping product usage and student-to-student distribution.

Illegal disposable e-cigarettes, or “vapes,” have replaced cigarettes as the dangerous new accessory for children and teenagers, threatening their health. The FDA has taken recent action to finally address this growing problem, but more must be done to finish the job. As educators, we are calling on the FDA to allocate the resources and the training necessary to federal, state and local enforcement authorities across all jurisdictions so they can work to keep these illegal disposable products off the shelves and out of our communities.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disposable vape usage among teens increased by 2,188% since 2019. The vast majority of these products are being illegally imported from China. Even though China bans these products for use by their citizens, over 90% of disposable vapes are made in Shenzhen, China, dubbed the world’s “Vapor Valley.”

The FDA has added several foreign manufacturers to its “red list” to stop illegal shipments from China and other nations at our ports and borders and sent warning letters to manufacturers of the products that are hugely popular with kids. These disposable vapes sold under the brands Elf Bar, Esco Bar, and Breeze Smoke are marketed in bright colors and candy flavors to appeal to children. They are pushed on TikTok and sold on websites to make it easier for teens to get hooked.

With its recent actions, the FDA is trying to put bad actors at every level of the illicit supply chain on notice: illegal, disposable vapes will no longer get a pass and are subject to enforcement. And while it’s good that the FDA is finally waking up to this issue and taking some action, words aren’t going to be enough. The sophisticated illicit networks are too profitable and too vast for the sales to just stop based upon threatening letters. If you walk down the street into the shops that sell these products, many are still on the shelves. Those that are taken off the shelves are probably being sold out of backpacks and car trunks, often even on school grounds.

If our government is serious about keeping these illegal disposable vapes out of the hands of children, they need to back up their words with decisive action. We need increased inspections at the retail level, enforcement guidance for local law enforcement, and resources to ensure they are physically removed. The FDA needs to make sure that state and local law enforcement, and more specifically code enforcement, officials are aware of the products that have been added to the red list. Store owners and law enforcement need to be educated so they are familiar with the illegal brands and take action to remove them from stores.

As educators working in the public sector, we understand the challenge of serving the community with scant resources. We admire all that our law enforcement officials do while their budgets are stretched and their manpower is limited. That’s why we think it’s essential that law enforcement be given more resources to address these new regulations. We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul when it comes to public safety and public health. We need to make sure that more resources are given to our police if we expect them to handle this new and growing threat.

The FDA must fulfill its duty to safeguard our community’s children by implementing robust enforcement measures and ensuring the effective regulation of these dangerous illegal disposable vapes. Only through decisive action can we secure a brighter future for our children, empowering them to reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

Alexandria Ayala represents District 2 on the Palm Beach County School Board.

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