06.23.19

SCHUMER URGES FED CRACKDOWN TO INSPECT, DETECT & REMOVE DANGEROUS, COUNTERFEIT E-CIG PRODUCTS MADE IN CHINA & AIMED AT KIDS FROM MARKET; FAKE PODS, WITH ALLURING FLAVORS, LIKE FRUITS & CANDY FDA HAS ACTED ON ARE NOW FLOODING MARKET ILLEGALLY

In One Recent Customs & Border Protection Seizure, Hundreds Of Fake ‘Juul’ Pods Were Confiscated, Headed For NY-Area; Schumer Says We Are In The Midst Of A Fake Pod Explosion That Will Get Worse If Feds Don’t Huddle To Stop Foreign Shipments & Easy Online Sales

Flavored ‘Juice’ Inside The Chinese-Made Pods Contains Cocktail Of Questionable Chemicals That Might Be Even More Dangerous To Inhale Than Standard E-Cig Flavors FDA Has Cracked Down On At Home  

Schumer: Feds Must Get Real Focused To Beat Back ‘Fake’ E-Cig Flavor Pods Now Flooding The Market & Putting Health At Risk        

Amidst a ‘fake’ e-cig flavor pod explosion that, left unchecked, might only get worse, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is sounding the alarm and demanding a federal crackdown to inspect, detect and stop dangerous and unregulated e-cig products—many from China—from gaining access to the U.S. marketplace. Schumer’s concerns come on the heels of an uptick in online access to counterfeit flavor pods,  a recent seizure of hundreds of fake ‘Juul’ pods destined for the New York-area, and new concerns over how easy it is to be fooled by the likely-dangerous fakes. Schumer is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to take new action against the emerging health epidemic.

“As is the case with lots of American ingenuity, China is at it again, copying and cashing in on the popularity of e-cigs here in New York and beyond. But in the case of dangerous e-cig copycat flavors cooked up in some foreign lab, the stakes are too high and concern the public’s health and safety,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “That is why, amidst an emerging ‘fake’ e-cig flavor pod explosion I am urging the feds to get real focused: crackdown on illegal online sales, implement plans to more vigorously inspect and detect illegal shipments, and altogether remove these faux pods from the U.S. marketplace.”  

One of the e-cig brands most popular amongst youth is “Juul.” Juul is just one variation of e-cig --though it is the market leader in the youth demographic--with flavored liquid. The device, like its product counterparts, comes in a variety of flavors and can be easily concealed by kids in the classroom because it looks identical to a USB flash drive. Now, counterfeit or ‘fake’ Juul pods, manufactured predominantly in China, are being imported to the U.S. They’re often made in unregulated facilities and with substandard materials. Ingesting and inhaling these counterfeit products can pose great danger to consumers because there is no way to verify the authenticity or safety of the ingredients or manufacturing process, according to the Patch. While counterfeit Juul pods look nearly identical to the original products made in the U.S., there is no telling whether the flavors are safe for users or those exposed to the vapor that is exhaled. As part of his letter to the Acting FDA Commissioner, Schumer is calling on the FDA to immediately study and test these products, and release the findings publically.

Industry reports show that factories in China are making hundreds of thousands of fake ‘Juul’ pods per month, and that the number of independent shops selling these products has nearly doubled since the start of the year. These counterfeit pods work with existing e-cig devices, like Juul, and appeal to youth through packaging and flavors. Not only are the counterfeit pods made with unknown ingredients and in unknown conditions, but they can be sold online with virtually no age-verification requirements, Schumer explained. There are two ways in which these illegal pods are hitting the market: illegally compatible pods that market themselves under a different name but are compatible with Juul devices, and counterfeit pods that call themselves Juul products.

“We have had success in reining in the kid-friendly flavors here at home,” added Schumer. “But now we have to demand the full attention of the FDA and CBP to beat back the fake e-cig flavor pods flooding the market and putting the health of young people at risk."

Earlier this year, Schumer was successful in a push to get the outgoing FDA Commissioner to take action on kid-friendly flavors domestically. Schumer has also stood with New York teens who admitted their addiction to their e-cig and its kid-friendly flavors.  

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that are designed to resemble traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes contain a mechanism inside the device that heats up liquid nicotine and turns it into a vapor that smokers then inhale and exhale. Unlike conventional cigarettes, however, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. This key difference has led some to deem e-cigarettes safer to smoke. However, while not all risks are known, some studies have highlighted the dangers of e-cigarettes. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that some e-cigarettes with higher voltage levels can contain cancer-causing formaldehyde at levels up to fifteen times more than regular cigarettes. In addition, e-cigarettes contain nicotine; the Surgeon General has found that nicotine has negative health impacts on adolescent brain development. According to the Surgeon General, the effects of nicotine exposure during youth and young adulthood can be long-lasting and can include lower impulse control and mood disorders. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products can prime young brains for addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Moreover, according to the Surgeon General, youth who use a tobacco product, like e-cigarettes, are more likely to go on to use another tobacco product, like conventional cigarettes.

The CDC has reported that youth tobacco use has reached its highest level in years due to an increase in e-cigarette popularity, which has reversed progress on the use of products that contain nicotine. While the overall proportion of high school students using tobacco products fell in recent years, there has been an increase in reported e-cigarette use, which doubled from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to the CDC. Last year, the rate of overall tobacco use jumped from 19.6 percent to 27.1 percent, and increase of 7.5 percent.

Schumer’s letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Sharpless, where he urges action on (5) points to address the fake pod epidemic, appears below:

Dear Acting Commissioner Sharpless:

I write to express my grave concerns regarding reports of an influx of counterfeit e-cigarette devices into the United States and the New York-area from China and other countries. As the federal agency responsible for protecting public health, I ask that you take immediate action to more aggressively intercept this contraband and help address the epidemic of e-cigarette use by children.

For the past several years, I have successfully pushed for action to address the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes by children, including prohibiting manufacturers of e-cigarettes from targeting children and teens by banning attractive flavors and regulating marketing tactics aimed at kids. However, this advancing success to combat the scourge --and use-- of e-cigs among children has created a demand void that countries like China are anxious to supply.   

While some of the FDA’s most recent actions towards e-cigarettes have been a step in the right direction, I am troubled by recent reports of counterfeit e-cigarette products – largely from China – flooding the market in ways that undermine efforts to make it harder for underage users to access these products. In response to complaints about these counterfeits, the U.S. International Trade Commission opened an investigation into the unlawful importation of these products, many of which appear to be sold online or in convenience stores with little or no age-verification.

These counterfeits “pods” come in flavors having obvious, if not deliberate, youth appeal, such as “Apple Juice,” “Pineapple Crush,” “Sour Gummy,” and "Strawberry Milk" to name a few. In addition, these counterfeiters, reportedly operating with little oversight in places like China, may have flawed or sloppy manufacturing that could result in heavy metals or carcinogens that have been detected in some e-cigarettes that also raise serious safety concerns. I ask that the FDA test these products and release information on their chemical content as soon as possible. It is vital that the public know of any increased health threats that these illegal products present.

To ensure these illicit products are stopped before they reach the U.S., the FDA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the U.S. Postal Service must all work together to inspect, detect, and prevent these products from entering the country. I understand that the FDA has recently taken steps to address threats like these, including recently signing an agreement with CBP. According to this agreement, FDA and CBP will maximize inspection and detection capabilities at ports of entry and increase scientific presence at international mail facility locations, including in New York, to support real-time decision-making.

To better support FDA’s efforts to prevent the influx of counterfeit e-cigarettes from getting into the hands of children, I ask that your agency respond to the following questions:

  1. How does the FDA work with CBP and the Postal Service to inspect, detect, and prevent counterfeit e-cigarettes?
  2. How will the FDA’s recent agreement with CBP address the influx of counterfeit e-cigarettes from countries like China? How will this agreement effect operations at the International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport and the Port of New York and New Jersey?
  3. How does the FDA use its database, the Operational and Administrative System for Import Support (OASIS) to inspect, detect, and prevent counterfeit e-cigarettes from entering the country?
  4. Has the FDA conducted specialized training or used advanced screening technology to improve the detection of counterfeit e-cigarettes?
  5. What more, if anything, might you require from the legislative branch to address the spike in ‘fake’ pods arriving to the U.S and to curtail these shipments?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

cc: John P. Sanders

Acting Commissioner

Customs and Border Protection



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