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E-cigarette market surges amid urgent need for comprehensive regulation and enforcement

New data are the latest in a growing body of research that highlight concerning trends in an e-cigarette market flooded with flavored products in increasingly high concentrations of nicotine.

A study released by the CDC Foundation, Truth Initiative, and CDC finds that e-cigarette unit sales increased by 46.6% between January 2020 and December 2022, with the total number of e-cigarette brands increasing 46.2% during that time, from 184 to 269.

While sales data are not specific to young people, the prevalence of e-cigarette use among high school students is high, with the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey finding that 2.5 million middle and high school students reported current e-cigarette use. Almost half of high schoolers who vape do so on a near daily basis, putting them on a trajectory for a potential lifetime of nicotine addiction and at increased risk for addiction to other substances.

Unit sales of flavored disposable e-cigarettes increased

The data show that as of August 2022, the top disposable brand reported was Elf Bar. The FDA recently announced that it has issued warning letters to 189 retailers for selling unauthorized tobacco products, specifically Elf Bar and Esco Bar products. Both brands are disposable e-cigarettes that come in sweet or fruity flavors such as strawberry ice that appeal to youth. The proliferation of flavored disposable products is cause for alarm – the report highlights that by Dec 2022, 79.6% of disposable unit sales contained flavors such as fruit, clove, spice, chocolate, alcoholic drink flavor, candy flavor, dessert flavor, or another flavor.

Disposable e-cigarettes, which skyrocketed in popularity following the product’s exemption from federal restrictions on flavored e-cigarettes in 2020, make up over half of the e-cigarette market. The market share of disposable e-cigarettes increased from 24.7 % to 51.8% during the study period, with disposable brands Elf Bar and Breeze Smoke among the top-selling e-cigarette brands alongside Vuse, JUUL, and NJOY. Average nicotine concentrations in disposable e-cigarettes have increased at a higher rate than in other types of e-cigarettes.

The FDA must take action to remove all unauthorized products

As sales increase, e-cigarette companies continue to flagrantly flout the regulatory process by releasing a rash of new products without authorization from the FDA, a requirement to legally enter the market. Even though unauthorized products were supposed to have been removed from retail shelves in September of 2021, enforcement has been slow. These circumstances have created a “Wild West” situation in which e-cigarette manufacturers are openly flouting the law, all at the expense of young people’s health.

These developments in the e-cigarette market speak to the need for urgent action on the part of the FDA to close the flavored tobacco product loophole and increase enforcements on manufacturers of these products. Flavored e-cigarette products appeal to and attract youth and are fueling the e-cigarette crisis, and for as long as these unauthorized products remain illegally available, young people will be at risk.