Chinese e-cigarettes smuggled as toys and shoes seized at LAX

Chinese e-cigarettes smuggled as toys and shoes seized at LAX

Minnah Arshad

Federal agents seized $18 million worth of illegal e-cigarettes from a cargo examination site at the Los Angeles International Airport, the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Thursday.

Officials said they seized approximately 1.4 million units over three days, including the most popular brand of flavored, disposable e-cigarettes among young people – Elf Bar – along with Lost Mary, Funky Republic, RELX Pod, IPLAY Max and others.

“Those shamelessly attempting to smuggle illegal e-cigarettes, particularly those that appeal to youth, into this country should take heed of today’s announcement,” said Brian King, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. 

Many shipments were mis-declared as toys or shoes to disguise the unauthorized contents, the FDA said. Agents reviewed shipping invoices and other documents for months before the confiscation of 41 shipments, the department added, all of which originated in China and will likely be destroyed.

The announcement Thursday comes as the World Health Organization urges countries to take stronger action against underage use of e-cigarettes. The United Nations agency said the product can cause cancer or increase the risk of heart and lung disease. They can also hamper brain development for young people and generate learning disorders.

“Kids are being recruited and trapped at an early age to use e-cigarettes and may get hooked to nicotine,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday. “I urge countries to implement strict measures to prevent uptake to protect their citizens, especially their children and young people.”

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Demographic differences in usage: Tobacco use among high schoolers is going down, but increasing for middle schoolers, CDC says

E-cigarette use among young people

Among middle and high schoolers, 2.8 million students currently use tobacco products, or one in 10 young people.

E-cigarettes have been the most-used tobacco product by middle and high school students for the past decade, but a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that high schoolers are vaping less. 

The decline in e-cigarette use by high schoolers dropped from 14% to 10% between 2022 and 2023, the report found, but the rate of middle schoolers who used at least one tobacco product increased from 4.5% to 6.6% in the past year.

The most popular tobacco product for underage users was e-cigarettes with 2.13 million students reporting using vapes in 2023. Among teen users, 89% said they used flavored vapes, and more than half used disposable e-cigarettes. 

Risks of e-cigarettes

Some experts, such as the United Kingdom’s federal public health agency, have argued vaping offers a safer alternative to cigarettes. Others, such as WHO, say e-cigarettes come with their risks. 

In countries permitting e-cigarettes, WHO recommends “strong regulations” to reduce their appeal and harm, such as banning all flavors, limiting the concentration and quality of nicotine, and taxing them. In the U.S., e-cigarette taxing varies by state, according to the CDC. 

The FDA said it has sent more than 650 warning letters to companies for new tobacco products that did not have marketing authorization, and it has filed civil money penalty complaints against 38 manufacturers and 67 retailers. The agency noted it has authorized 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products for sale.

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Teen users who want to quit can text DITCHVAPE to 88709 to sign up for Truth Initiative’s program to help them stop vaping.

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