FDA Warns 189 Retailers in Tobacco Inspection Blitz

Stores were selling unauthorized Elf Bar, Esco Bars disposable e-cigarettes
Disposable e-cigarettes
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to 189 retailers—including many convenience stores—for selling unauthorized tobacco products, specifically Elf Bar and Esco Bars. Both disposable e-cigarette brands come in flavors known to appeal to youth, like bubblegum and cotton candy, the FDA said.

The warning letters were the result of a nationwide retailer inspection blitz over the past several weeks cracking down on the sale of unauthorized e-cigarettes. On May 31, the agency announced it had issued warning letters to 29 retailers and one distributor for illegally selling unauthorized tobacco products from Puff and Hyde.

“The FDA is prepared to use all of its authorities to ensure these, and other illegal and youth-appealing products, stay out of the hands of kids,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. “We are committed to a multipronged approach using regulation, compliance and enforcement action and education to protect our nation’s youth.”

The FDA provided a list of the retailers who received warning letters and the name of the product found at the store. Brick-and-mortar retailers from California to Florida were named, along with about 20 online retailers. Recipients are given 15 working days to respond to the letters with the steps they’ll take to correct the violation and prevent future ones, the FDA said.

The FDA’s ongoing surveillance efforts helped it identify Elf Bar and Esco Bars as being among the most popular brands in the United States and having high youth appeal, it said.

Two studies published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report reinforced concerns about the risks of Elf Bar products among young people, the FDA said. The first study assessed retail sales of e-cigarettes and found that Elf Bar was the most popular disposable e-cigarette sold in the U.S. in December 2022. The study aligned with the findings of the International Tobacco Control Survey, the FDA said.

A second study showed thousands of e-cigarette exposure cases reported to U.S. poison centers in the past year, most among children younger than 5 years old, the FDA said. While there were limited cases with brand information reported from April 2022 to March 2023, Elf Bar was cited more than all other brands combined, the agency said.

“All players in the supply chain—including retailers—have a role in keeping illegal e-cigarettes off the shelves,” said Brian King, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “This latest blitz should be a wake-up call for retailers of Elf Bar and Esco Bars products nationwide. If they’re waiting for a personal invitation to comply with the law, they might just get it in the form of a warning letter or other action from the FDA.”

The FDA in May also issued an import alert, authorizing U.S. Customs and Broder Protection to detain certain disposable e-cigarettes that do not have required marketing authorization, including Elf Bar, Esco Bar and Eon Smoke.

To date, the FDA has authorized 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products and devices under its premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process. Decisions on some major vapor brands, like Juul, are still pending.

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