Business Opinion

Consumer Diary: Deceptive E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes are being packaged to look like children's toys and other devices that target minors. Courtesy image

Consumer columnist and West Hartford resident Harlan Levy has more than 20 years of experience writing stories about everyday experiences that anyone could encounter.

E-cigarettes are being packaged to look like children’s toys and other devices that target minors. Courtesy image

By Harlan Levy

Do you know – or know of – any young people, children, grandchildren, relatives’ kids who smoke e-cigarettes or “vape”?

I must admit I vaped for a while – until my doctor advised me to stop since it was causing a persistent cough.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol that’s inhaled like regular cigarettes. Most contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says, they can harm adolescent brain development and can contain other harmful chemicals, including acrolein and acetaldehyde, which can damage your lungs.

Harlan Levy. Courtesy photo

In short, e-cigs are “unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults,” the CDC said last week. That’s why their sale to anyone under 21 is illegal under U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Connecticut rules, and why the FDA, within the last month, has twice issued warnings and then sanctions threatening $19,192 per single violation (and that’s big bucks) to multiple retailers who didn’t comply with demands to stop selling the youth-appealing e-cigs.

Twenty-two offenders compounded their bad behavior, the FDA said, by selling many brands deceptively packaged to look like cartoon characters, school supplies, toys, and drinks to promote use by minor children.

“The design of these products is a shamelessly egregious attempt to target kids,” said Brian King, director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

The unauthorized products in the warning letters include e-cigarettes that:

  • Feature characters from TV shows, movies, and video games, including “SpongeBob,” “Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear,” and “Mario”;
  • Are designed to look like young students school supplies, such as highlighters, and toys like Nintendo Game Boy and digital cameras; and
  • Imitate drinks that kids like – Starbucks and Dunkin’ drinks, Dunkin’ coffee cups, soda, and water bottles.

After sending retailers the warning letters and during follow-up inspections, the FDA found 22 had not stopped their sales, resulting in the $19,000+ penalty actions. They risk the full penalty if, within 30 days, they don’t either pay it, enter into a settlement, or request an extension of time to file an answer or ask for a hearing.

“The FDA has been abundantly clear that we are committed to using the full scope of our authorities, as appropriate, to hold those who break the law accountable,” King said. “These retailers were duly warned of what could happen if they failed to correct their violations.”

Last Thursday the FDA also announced that after inspections in August it sent an additional 168 warning letters to brick-and-mortar retailers for illegally selling Elf Bar/EB Design products. They have 15 days to stop their sales or face fines, injunctions, and seizures.

“We continue to monitor closely all those in the supply chain, including retailers, for compliance with federal law,” said FDA Compliance and Enforcement Director Ann Simoneau. “This includes follow-up inspections and surveillance of those who have received a warning letter, and taking additional action.”

As of Sept. 23, the FDA had issued more than 400 warning letters to retailers, including brick-and-mortar and online retailers. The FDA has also issued more than 600 warning letters to manufacturers and distributors and filed money penalty complaints against three e-cigarette manufacturers.

NOTE: The FDA has authorized 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes – the only e-cigarettes that currently may be lawfully marketed and sold in the U.S. – including the Vuse Solo e-cig and two accompanying tobacco-flavored e-liquid cartridges. To date, no e-cigarette has been approved as a device for stopping smoking.

West Hartford resident Harlan Levy has been a consumer columnist for more than 20 years. He concentrates on revealing notable personal experiences and everyday consumer situations that either he or his wife encounter — sometimes ridiculous, outrageous, or downright laughable. But all relate to most readers’ common predicaments, including damaged goods and unresponsive sellers, unwanted automatic renewals, and various deceptive, insidious scams. He offers analysis, warnings, and practical solutions and advice.

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