Vape ban during COVID-19 sought as illicit pods seized in US

Customs officers in Philadelphia say they have confiscated almost half a million dollars’ worth of counterfeit and unapproved e-cigarettes since June.

The 48 seized shipments – all sent from China or Hong Kong and intercepted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Ports of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – have a combined estimated value of $444,000 and could pose serious health concerns to users.

Port of Pittsburgh CBP seized 40 shipments containing more than 28,000 e-cigarette pods that were destined to addresses in Allegheny, Beaver and Mercer Counties, and carried brand names like Bidi, Pop, and Puff.

Port of Philadelphia officers seized eight shipments destined to addresses in Bucks, Chester and Delaware Counties and included more than 30,000 pods, under the brand names Eonsmoke, Pop, Puff, and St!k.

“Counterfeit and unapproved vaping products pose a very serious health concern to users as they are likely manufactured in unregulated facilities with unverified ingredients,” said Casey Durst, director of field operations for CBP’s Baltimore Field Office.

Lawmakers seek temporary ban on sales

The high volumes of illegal vapes in the illicit supply chain is particularly concerning given the outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the US that peaked a year ago.

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EVALI had claimed 68 deaths by the end of February - when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stopped providing uptakes as cases fell and the coronavirus pandemic started to emerge.

One of the main causes of the EVALI outbreak is thought to be vitamin E acetate, which has been added to vaping products as a diluent, and consumers have no way of knowing if this has been used in illicit vapes.

There is also data starting to emerge showing that vaping may be increasing the risk of COVID-19, the disease caused by infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

A study in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine last week found that adolescents and young adults aged 13–24 years reporting use of e-cigarettes only – or dual use with tobacco – were at a five- and seven-times increased risk, respectively, of a COVID-19 diagnosis compared to non-users.

The concerns about the elevated risk has prompted lawmakers to write to the FDA asking the agency to ban the sale of e-cigarettes entirely during the coronavirus crisis.

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