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OPINION SHAPER: FDA must get illegal disposable vapes out of NC communities

Aug 18, 2023

Matt Scott

Opinion Shaper


Matt Scott

Opinion Shaper

Parents, teachers, and elected officials all over North Carolina have worked aggressively to address the teen vaping epidemic that was washing over our state. And while we thought we were making progress, Chinese illegal disposable vapes from China kid-friendly flavors are now flooding the country and ending up in North Carolina schools.

Over three years ago, the FDA issued a complete ban on most kid-friendly flavored vapes. However, despite this regulatory action, some harmful products still find their way into children’s hands throughout the state. This alarming situation begs the question: How is this possible? Unfortunately, the FDA and its Center for Tobacco Products allowed disposable vapes to remain on the market. And while recent actions to close enforcement loopholes signal progress, much more must be done to stop this nationwide threat.

According to the most recent intelligence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), youth usage of disposable vapes is skyrocketing. The situation is exacerbated further by vaping companies openly defying FDA orders, taking advantage of the absence of a working enforcement plan. As a result, the market remains filled with unregulated and potentially harmful disposable vaping products in kid-friendly flavors. Without enforcement, these companies continue to operate with impunity, endangering public health and undermining the efforts to protect our communities, especially our youth, from the dangers of vaping.

While flavored vapes like Elf Bar, Esco Bar, Breeze Smoke, and Puff Bar were recently included in the FDA’s disposable vape crackdown, they continue to sit on convenience store shelves, where our teens easily access them.

What makes this issue particularly problematic is the deliberate marketing of these vapes to children. These vaping companies target our youth by enticing them with colorful designs and fruity flavors. You can find products like Puff Bar and Elf Bar advertised on popular apps children use, like TikTok. The presence of vaping products on these platforms normalizes and glamorizes vaping, creating a dangerous appeal that can easily lead to addiction and lifelong health consequences.

The widespread availability of these vapes is concerning, making them easily accessible to our youth. In 2019, it was reported that over 35 percent of high school students in North Carolina said they used vapes within the past thirty days. This number is staggering, especially when we consider that the prevalence of youth vaping was virtually nonexistent just eight years prior.

Illegal disposable e-cigarettes are often made in Shenzhen, China, where they have a hub for vape production. Products like Esco Bar are manufactured in Shenzhen and are manufactured without adhering to the regulations and standards set by the United States.

These products are then smuggled into America and sold in stores illegally. China’s role as a primary source of fentanyl, a dangerous opioid trafficked to the U.S., is deeply concerning. Disturbingly, there have been recent instances of vapes containing fentanyl, leading to severe injuries and tragic deaths among vulnerable children who unknowingly used these tainted products.

While FDA Commissioner Califf has openly said that the vaping crisis is an “all of government” issue, there is a clear lack of urgency on the part of the FDA to address this problem. This is unacceptable, considering the alarming rise in youth vaping and the continuous availability of banned products. In 2020, North Carolina received $455.7 million from tobacco settlement payments. If this money is not going to enforce and strengthen regulations on illegal disposable vaping products in kid-friendly flavors, then where is it going?

We need prompt action from the FDA and Congress to ensure enforcement measures are in place to finish the job and get these illegal disposable vapes in kid-friendly flavors off the shelves. Our children deserve a future free from the dangers of vaping, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure their health and well-being are in good hands.

Matt Scott is the District Attorney for Robeson County. Contact by email at [email protected].