It looks like a new era of federal e-cigarette enforcement has officially begun. This time, the FDA is taking aim at vapor product retailers who accidentally or intentionally sell to people underage.
Just like they do with other adult-only products, the FDA is doing checks to ensure that e-cigarette shops are following the law and only selling to adults over the age of 18. This is a good thing for vapers and e-cigarette retailers, because it is a chance to prove to the public that vaping is indeed intended to be an adult-only activity, and that vapor products are not targeted at teens.
The official announcement reads: “The FDA has been conducting a large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes – specifically JUUL products – to minors at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers.”
In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at this “undercover blitz” and what it means for the vaping industry. We’ll look at how these undercover stings work, what happens to retailers that don’t comply, and how retail shops respond to these investigations.
How Undercover Stings Work
According to the FDA, they conduct undercover stings by sending trained minors into shops to attempt to purchase an e-cigarette or other age-restricted vaping product. After this “inspection,” the minor reports back to the FDA inspectors to tell them how the interaction went.
Then, the FDA reviews the report to see whether or not the shop sold to the minor and actually violated a law. If so, they take punitive action by sending a warning or a fine.
If it’s a store’s first violation, then they will likely only receive a warning letter. If it’s not the first time the store has failed an inspection, then the FDA will most likely send a monetary fine along with the written warning.
In cases of serious or multiple violations, the FDA can order the shop to stop selling vapor products and tobacco products altogether. Regardless of the outcome, every vape shop is subject to future inspections that could occur at any place or time.
After the FDA has reviewed the cases that come from the inspections, the results are all posted online for the public to see. This holds shops accountable to the public as well as the FDA.
All vape shops that received warnings or fines are expected to respond to the FDA within fifteen work days with a plan for correcting the problem. They are supposed to give an explanation of the exact steps they will take to prevent future violations, such as providing extra training for their employees.
It’s worth noting that the FDA is not the first nor only agency to conduct these sorts of vape shop inspections. Many state and local governments have their own laws against selling e-cigarettes to underage youth and conduct inspections to make sure local shops are complying.
Results From the Recent Sweep
In the aftermath of the FDA’s recent undercover vape shop “blitz,” the agency sent out warning letters and fines to forty different e-cigarette retailers spanning 17 different states. In our home state of Colorado, only a single smoke shop received a citation.
While, ideally, the number of vape shops failing undercover inspection would be zero, it’s encouraging to know that only forty shops failed. Those forty shops represent less than .007 percent of the estimated ~7,000 vape shops in the United States, and that’s not even counting the thousands of online retailers.
While the FDA surely didn’t audit every vape shop in the country, the strong wording in their announcement suggests that they tested a large number of both online and brick-and-mortar retailers. The fact that only forty were non-compliant shows that the vast majority of shops were compliant and refused to sell e-cigarettes to a minors.
And, now that the FDA has identified and cited a number of irresponsible vape shops, there will be more incentive for them and all other retailers to comply with the law. Undercover checks like these will encourage every store, even those that weren’t inspected, to do their due diligence and be especially careful to keep underage buyers out of their shops.
A New Phase of Federal Regulation Has Begun
For many years now, e-cigarettes have been subject to regulations and inspections from state and local governments. However, 2018 marks the first year of widespread, hands-on e-cigarette regulation from the federal government in the US.
As we discussed on this blog recently, the FDA is already gearing up to do extensive inspections on product inventories held by e-cigarette retailers and manufacturers. Now, this recent crackdown on underage vaping marks the second large-scale e-cigarette enforcement effort taken by the FDA.
This effort to identify and call out retailers who sell vapor products to minors is one that everyone in the vaping community should be able to support. Vaping is an adult-only activity and no vape shop should ever sell an e-cigarettes to someone who is underage.
Whether the shops warned by the FDA sold these products to minors knowingly or unknowingly, it’s a good thing that they got called out. Preventing underage vaping requires everyone’s cooperation, and it’s important to ensure that e-cigarette retail shops are doing their due diligence to weed out underage customers.
Vapers and political activists have spoken out against many facets of the FDA’s e-cigarette regulations, but the ban on underage vaping is not one of them. The vast majority of vapers understand that teen vaping is not okay and that it’s important to keep e-cigarettes away from kids.
In fact, it’s in the best interest of every adult vaper to ensure that teens don’t have access to e-cigarettes and other vapor products. As we work to convince our fellow citizens and politicians that open access to e-cigarettes is important for adults, we must also show them that it is possible to minimize and mitigate underage use.
Adults have the potential to understand the benefits and risks of e-cigarettes and have the right to choose for themselves whether or not they want to vape. Children and teens, however, are more vulnerable and less capable of making those kinds of choices, which is why it’s important to keep them away from products like alcohol and e-cigarettes that are meant to be used by adults.