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U.S. unveils new task force aimed at cracking down on illicit e-cigarettes

WASHINGTON >> The U.S. Justice Department and the Food and Drug Administration on Monday launched a new task force that will take aim at the sale and distribution of illicit e-cigarettes, in a move to protect youth from illegal vaping products.

The new enforcement effort comes after the FDA issued more than 1,100 warning letters to manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers for illegally selling or distributing unauthorized new tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

To date, the FDA has only authorized the sale of 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products.

“Unauthorized e-cigarettes and vaping products continue to jeopardize the health of Americans – particularly children and adolescents – across the country,” said Benjamin C. Mizer, the Justice Department’s No. 3 official, in a press release.

“This interagency task force is dedicated to protecting Americans by combating the unlawful sale and distribution of these products. And the establishment of this task force makes clear that vigorous enforcement of the tobacco laws is a government-wide priority.”

The 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that overall tobacco use by high school students declined from 16.5% to 12.6% between 2022 and 2023, with the decline being driven by the use of e-cigarettes. While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they do contain nicotine which is highly addictive.

The percentage of middle school students using tobacco products increased from 4.5% to 6.6% during that same time period.

The new task force will focus on taking both criminal and civil enforcement actions. That includes criminal and civil prosecutions, seizures and forfeitures.

Its membership will include a variety of federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Trade Commission.

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